Posts Tagged ‘Faith in Jesus’

Today we pick up again in the Gospel of Mark, with the story of the long suffering woman – Mark 5:24-34. This story is sandwiched between the beginning and the end of another story – about how Jesus raises Jairus’s daughter from the dead. But I thought we would begin with it, and then come back to the other.

The story

24bAnd a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.

Remember with me, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee to the Eastern shore.

  • On the way over he calmed the stormy sea.
  • And when he arrived he cast out the legion of demons from the man in the cemetery.
  • And now Jesus has come back across the Sea of Galilee to the Western shore.

A large crowd greeted him as he arrived. And after Jairus asked Jesus to come heal his daughter – our story begins – with the crowds still in tow.

25And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.

Five statements here tell the sad situation of this woman.

1. She has a chronic bleeding disorder of some kind, probably related to her menstrual cycle. And she has had this condition for 12 years. She has suffered a long time.

Apart from the physical aspect of this, according to the Law of Moses:

  • she could not touch anyone, without making them unclean (Leviticus 15:25ff),
  • she could not enter the temple (Leviticus 15:31)
  • and she was forbidden to be sexually active (Leviticus 18:19). So if she was ever married she almost certainly would now be divorced

2. She has suffered much seeking help. She has gone to many physicians, not just a few. And their treatments are described as causing her misery.

Many ancient physicians used crude and ineffective procedures. For her situation you might be required to drink a goblet of wine with a powder of rubber, alum and garden crocuses; or you might be shocked; or you might have to carry the ash of an ostrich’s egg in a certain cloth. (Talbert, pl 174, referencing William Lane’s research)

3. She’s now poor having spent all her resources on seeking these treatments.

4. Her health is not even better and no wonder, given the treatments we just heard about!

5. And in fact, she’s worse than before despite all her money and all these physicians. She seems to be beyond human help.

27She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”

So Jesus’ reputation as a healer has spread far and wide.

Her hope is for a secret healing. She comes up behind him and just touches his clothing (the fringes that all devout Jews wore Matthew 9:20, Luke 8:44) and want to slip away unnoticed.

If we ask why? Perhaps she’s very shy. Perhaps because she’s not supposed to touch anyone? Perhaps she was ashamed of her condition? We don’t know.

But we do know that she has great faith in Jesus. She believed that she only needed to touch his clothing to be healed.

29And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

The healing is instantaneous and complete. Notice the contrast between the effectiveness of Jesus and the futility of the doctors of that day.

30And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”

Just as she feels in herself that she’s healed, Jesus perceives in himself that power has gone out.

There are a few interesting things about this:

  • Jesus heals someone without even being asked.
  • And he heals someone without him knowing about it, until after it happened.
  • And although afterwards he knows it happened by supernatural knowledge, he doesn’t know who it is.

And so he asks, who touched my garments?

Well, the disciples don’t even know what to do with this question.

31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?'” 32And he looked around to see who had done it.

They’re saying, “Jesus, everyone is touching you!” But Jesus persists.

And the woman’s hope for a secret healing is foiled –

33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.

Why was she afraid? Did she think she would be rebuked for touching Jesus in her uncleanness? Or for not asking Jesus for healing? And if Jesus is angry perhaps she thinks her healing might be rescinded.

Luke 8:45 tells us that everyone denied that they touched Jesus, at least in the way that Jesus is talking about. So it sounds like at first she tried to keep it a secret, but then comes forward before Jesus and tells the whole truth of what happened.

Why does Jesus draw her out in public? Healings that are not publicly verified cannot bring glory to God or bear witness to who Jesus is as the Son of God. This reminds us that we need to give praise to God and bear witness for Jesus when he works in our lives in answer to prayer.

Jesus also wanted to speak to her, which he does in v. 34.

34And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Jesus isn’t angry! He uses a term of endearment, “daughter.” And he commends her for her faith and reassures her that the gift of her healing is indeed hers to keep. He wished for her peace, that is, shalom; her wholeness and well-being.

Let me end with –

Two things that stand out from this story

The first is Jesus’ amazing power to save. He doesn’t just do miracles, he does extraordinary miracles. Recently he calmed the storm with the mere words of his mouth and he easily cast out over 5,000 demons. And now he has cured someone, whom no one else could. And the healing was instantaneous. We are reminded yet again that Jesus is amazing!

All these miracles point to his true identity. He is not just a miracle worker or a prophet – he is the Son of God, come to fulfill God’s promises and bring salvation to God’s people.

And these miracles also should draw us to come to him with our needs for salvation, healing and help.

And second, this woman is an excellent example of faith for us. So that when we come to Jesus, we receive.

She didn’t need Jesus to do something elaborate or to even show her any attention. She knew that he was so powerful that all she needed to do was touch his clothing. And because of her faith, she was made whole.

Listen carefully. Many people touched Jesus that day in the crowd going to Jairus’ house, but only she was healed. And she received from Jesus because she touched Jesus with faith.

As we close today and sing our final song, I invite you to pray and to touch Jesus in faith – so that you can find grace and mercy for your needs and your burdens. 

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We are back into our series on the Gospel of John and today we are up to the story where Jesus heals the official’s son, in chapter 4:46-54. You can follow along on the handout you have, or you can open your bibles as we go through this.

I trust that God has something really good for each of you this morning and I hope you will listen and be alert to it, so that you can receive it.

By way of review, after talking to Nicodemus, Jesus left Jerusalem for the Judean countryside where his disciples baptized many people. Then he purposed to go to Galilee, but on the way went to Samaria and talked to the Samaritan woman and also the Samaritan village of Sychar. And now he has come back to Galilee and specifically back to Cana.

Alright, let’s look at –

Our story

 46So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.” Our story starts off harkening back to its parallel, when Jesus turned the water into wine, which also happened in Cana of Galilee. As you can see from your handout on an overview of John 2-4, these stories function as bookends to this section of John. (They are twins in these ways: There are several inclusion markers – “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did . . .” – 2:11; “This was now the second sign that Jesus did . . .” – 4:54. “Cana in Galilee” – 2:1, 4:26. 4:46 refers back to the making of wine in Cana. Both happen after a chronological note of two days – “On the third day” – 2:1; “after the two days” – 4:43. Additional parallels between both stories: 1. a need is expressed – for wine, for healing. 2. Jesus offers some resistance – “what does this have to do with me?” – 2:4; “unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” – 4:48. 3. Faith in his power persists – “do whatever he tells you” – 2:5; “come down before my child dies” – 4:49. 4. Both focus on Jesus’ word – “do whatever he tells you” – 2:5; “the man believed the word that Jesus spoke.” – 4:50 5. Jesus responds differently than asked – he does a miracle behind the scenes on his own terms; he doesn’t come with the man but heals the boy from a distance. 6. Servants are involved in both stories. 7. Faith is noted at the end of each story – “his disciples believed in him” – 2:11; “he himself believed and all his household” – 4:53. With thanks to Ben Witherington for several of these.)

“And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill.” Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee, was about 15 miles away, close to a day’s walk.

The word for “official” is better translated as “royal official.” He probably worked for Herod Antipas. It’s possible that he was a Gentile, but this point isn’t made in the story. Although, working for Herod would make him suspect to devout Jews. He would have been well to do, or upper class. He was an aristocrat. As we will see, he has servants – v. 51.

Beyond being “ill” we don’t know exactly what his son’s condition was, except that he was “at the point of death” – vs. 47; 49; and he had a “fever” – v. 52.

47When 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.”

So he has heard about Jesus, most likely from some of the Galileans who had seen Jesus’ public miracles in Jerusalem a few days before (4:45; 2:23). He comes to Jesus based on his reputation as a miracle worker. Can you put yourself in his place? You have child who is about to die and no one can help and so he comes to Jesus in hope. His request is for Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his son. 

48So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless *you all see signs and wonders you will not believe.’” This response of Jesus is somewhat unexpected and jarring. But do notice that the “you” is plural here – “you all.” No doubt a crowd was around Jesus in Cana, so he is saying this to them as well. Perhaps the crowd wanted to see miracles in Galilee like he did in Jerusalem. (This might be behind their exuberant welcome of him in v. 45.)  They want to see their native son do miracles in Galilee as well. After all, his miracle in Galilee, turning water to wine, was a private miracle. They didn’t see it.

Jesus is here confronting mere “signs faith” among Galileans. This is a faith that is based on seeing miracles. Jesus, if you do miracles we will believe in you, Prove yourself to us! And even keep proving yourself to us with more and more miracles.

So although Jesus did miracles to create faith, it seems most often that such “signs faith” didn’t lead to its intended goal of real faith in Jesus. It didn’t lead people to understand what the signs point to – that Jesus is the eternal Son of God and that he has come to give eternal life, not just healings for this current life.

And so Jesus is challenging the man here , “Do you also just want to see if I can do a miracle?”

49The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’” The man is undeterred by Jesus’ words. He repeats his urgent request.

50Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son *lives.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” Jesus responds to him in such a way as to give him an opportunity to move beyond mere “signs faith.” He asks him to believe without first seeing the miracle.

And the man does believe, not based on seeing a sign, but based on Jesus’ word to him. He heard Jesus’ word and he acted on it. This is true faith. His son was at the point of death and if this didn’t work this could be it. So he rests the life of his son in Jesus’ hands and heads back to Capernaum.

51As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his *child *lives. 52So 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.’ 53The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son *lives.’”

So the man’s servants came to find him and tell him the good news and so they meet on the road. Between them they figure out that the boy was healed just when Jesus said that he was well – at 1:00 PM. So Jesus spoke in Cana and it happened in Capernaum, 15 miles away, right when he spoke.

Now at this time and perhaps still today, healing at a distance was thought to be harder than healing in close proximity. And this helps us understand why John included this as a “sign.” He only narrates exceptional miracles, the best of the best, that point to Jesus’ glory. 

“And he himself believed, and all his household.” His faith was confirmed. He heard Jesus’ word and he acted on this and now he has seen the result. He knows that Jesus is the one who gives life by his mere word. 

And his faith spreads. All his household believed . This would include his wife, children and servants. They believed based on his testimony about Jesus. [Most often a household would share the faith of the head of the household.]

This story illustrates how Jesus’ signs are supposed to work . They are to lead people to true faith in Jesus.

Our story ends – 54This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.”

[There are some parallels between this story and 1 Kings 17:17-24: the son of an outcast; the son died (or ill, no breath); Elijah prayed three times – “let child’s life come into him again”; the son is healed; he says, “see your son lives”; the woman acknowledges Elijah’s identity, “now I know you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is true.”]

[Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 and this story are not the same. The encounter with the royal official takes place in Cana not Capernaum; the boy is called a son and his child (paidion) and so pais must mean child, not servant here. ; the main focus of the story in the Synoptics is the Gentile’s faith whereas in John the focus inJesus.]

Some gleanings for us

1. The unlikely ones often respond to Jesus. This continues the theme developed with the Samaritan woman and the contrast there with Nicodemus. The royal official worked for Herod Antipas. He was possibly a Gentile. He was most likely not a devout Jew. These were all negatives. But he and his family responded with true faith in Jesus.

Let’s keep this in mind as we work at VBS this week. Who do you think is unlikely to respond? The disruptive one? The inattentive one? This may well be the one that Jesus will touch. This may well be the one that gets it and comes to faith in Jesus. We don’t know. We are simply called to labor patiently in love to everyone.

2. The royal official is an example to us of faith. He came based on hearing about Jesus’ ability to heal – signs faith. But then when Jesus challenged him he responded and moved to a true faith that is based on Jesus’ word.

And like him we too need to hear Jesus’ words to us, whatever that may be this morning. What is he saying to you through his word? What has he been saying to you this past week, this past month? Where is he challenging you in an area of weakness or in an area where you need to step out it faith.

Wherever Jesus is speaking you us we need to act in faith, without first seeing the results. Right? This is how faith works. First we act on Jesus’ word in faith and then we see the results in our lives. And I can assure you that he will be there for you and come through for you as he did for the royal official. When we act on his word, like him, we will go on our way and find that his promises to us our true.

3. Nothing is too difficult for Jesus. He can do miracles that are unheard of.  He can do beyond what we can ask or think. The royal official thought that Jesus had to come to Capernaum to heal his son, but he didn’t. Jesus simply spoke the word and it happened 15 miles away.

I don’t know what you are going through this morning. But I do know that Jesus is able to take care of you. There is no obstacle that can stand in his way. He can act even beyond the assumptions that we make that limit him. He can do anything.

4. Jesus gives life. In John, signs point to who Jesus is and what he has come to do. In this case the message is clear – Jesus is the one who gives life. This is who he is. This is what this sign points to.

Three times in our story the phrase is repeated: Your son lives; your child lives, your son lives. This is being emphasized. And life has a double meaning. It is not just about the healing of the boy. It also pictures for us resurrection life or eternal life.

If in the first Cana miracle Jesus is pictured as providing the wine and the joy for the party on the day of resurrection; here he is pictured as the one who brings about the resurrection itself. Through his authoritative word (John 5:25) the dead will come to life, just as this boy came back from the point of death to live.

(Is the geography that is emphasized here a part of this symbolism? Jesus is in the hills of Cana and speaks and the boy lives in Capernaum below.)

William Higgins


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We are finishing up our “series within a series” on Jesus’ interactions with Nicodemus. As we get started here today I would remind you that last week we discovered how it is now possible to be born of the Spirit or receive eternal life – through Jesus’ being lifted up on the cross and then on into heaven and pouring out the Spirit. 

By way of introduction today, let me say that I take verses 16-21 to be the words of John, the Beloved disciple, the writer of our Gospel. John is here, I believe, reflecting on the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, especially vs. 14-15. (Most writers agree).

Let’s take look at our first set of Scriptures –

John 3:16-18

And we begin with the well known v. 16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his beloved (only) Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

There are three key themes in this verse – God’s love; God’s purpose to save the world through Jesus; and the role of faith in Jesus as the means of salvation. I believe the reason this verse is so popular has to do with these basic and essential themes, and the way they are brought together in a concise and understandable way here.

First, the theme of God’s love. (The other two will be developed more in vs. 17 and 18.) 1) We learn that God’s love is sacrificial. “God so loved . . . that he gave his beloved, Son.” The extent, the depth of God’s love was such that he was willing to do what it took to save us. It cost him. He sacrificed for us.

Notice the echo here of Genesis 22:2 and the story of Abraham offering up his son Isaac:

  • In Genesis, God told Abraham, “take your son . . . and offer him as a burnt offering . . ..” In v. 16 we are told that God gave his Son on the cross as a sacrifice.
  • Abraham’s son is called “your beloved son, whom you love.”  In v. 16 God’s Son is the Father’s “beloved” Son.

Now Abraham did not have to go through with it, God provided a ram. But it presents a picture of what God himself has now done for us and his sacrificial love for us.

2) God’s love includes all. Who does God love? “The world” – speaking of every single person who has ever lived or will live. Who can receive of God’s love? “Whoever” or as it can be translated “everyone.” It is available to every single person. This is not talking about a sub-set of humanity. It is emphatically talking about all people.

3) God’s love blesses us greatly. God acts for our good, to help us in our need, which is what love does. We are in danger of perishing, but God gives us “eternal life,” a gift of inestimable value. 

God’s love for us is so amazing and astounding, especially given our lack of love for God.

v. 17 picks up and expounds on the second theme of v. 16, God’s purpose in giving Jesus is to save the world. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

We have two purpose statements here, one negative and one positive. God’s purpose is not to condemn; “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world.” Positively stated God’s purpose is to save; he acted “in order that the world might be saved.” Again, “the world” is all the people in this fallen world who are in danger of perishing (v. 16).

This teaches us that it is not God’s will to condemn anyone in the world. God’s purpose, God’s choice, God’s will, is the salvation of the world.

  • As Ezekiel 18:23 says, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”
  • As 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says, “God our Savior . . . desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
  • As 2 Peter 3:9 tells us, the Lord does not wish “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

It is not from God’s end that people are not saved. There is no limit in what Jesus has done on the cross (1 John 2:2). There is no choice he has made that hinders anyone. He loves all and gives his Son freely for all. If it were left to God, all would be saved. His choice is clear. No, the difference has to do with us; what happens on our end.

v. 18 then, picks up and expounds on the third theme of v. 16, the role of faith in Jesus as the means of salvation. 18The one who believes in him is not condemned, but the one who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the beloved Son of God.”

Now, all of salvation is from God. And without God’s love and initiative, and without Jesus death and resurrection, none would be saved. Not a single person. But as this verse makes clear whether we receive the gift of salvation, or not, has to do with whether we put our faith in Jesus, or not. In this respect our faith in Jesus, or lack of it, is the difference.

God doesn’t force his grace on us; he doesn’t choose for us. The one who believes is saved and the one who does not believe is condemned – v. 18. (They remain under the condemnation they already had. As it says here, “is condemned already” (see also 3:36).

So as I said, the problem is on our end. If we are not saved it is because when we hear the good news of Jesus, we choose not to believe.

But then, why do some choose not to believe? Why don’t they accept of God’s love and gift of salvation? If it is not God’s purpose to condemn them, why are some still judged? This is what our next set of verses speak to.

John 3:19-21

19And 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.” He is saying, this is how judgment works. They don’t believe and they don’t receive because, despite God’s love for them, they “love the darkness.” And they love the darkness because they hide under its cover so they can continue their evil deeds. This is what they want.

John goes on similarly in v. 20, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” They not only love the cover of darkness, they hate being exposed by the light of God so that their wrongdoing is made know. They know that what they do is wrong, but they want to hide this.

So how does judgment work? It is a self-judgment. They choose to reject Jesus because they like their situation and want to keep it. This is why they don’t believe.

But then we have the other side. 21But the one who does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” Some have already responded to God’s light prior to the coming of Jesus. They do “what is true.” God has already been at work in them. As it says, their “works have been carried out in God.” And so when the light of Jesus comes, they believe in him. They are not afraid of exposure. The light simply shows that God has already done a work in them.

[Notice that this last section of verses parallels the first section – 2:23-3:2. (See the literary structure handout). The first section of this passage has Nicodemus comes to Jesus, the light, “by night.” And here the light of Jesus comes into the world and people come to him.]

The language of these verses echoes chapter 1, which provides a framework for understanding what’s going on here. Chapter 1 tells us that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:5); and that this light “enlightens everyone” (1:9).

God’s light has always been shining in the darkness; in the world enlightening everyone. But then, as 3:21 says, “the light has come into the world.” Chapter 1 spoke of “the true light . . . coming into the world.” (1:9). And this light has now come into the world in the person of Jesus.

  • So some, having already rejected the previous light of God and God’s work in their lives – reject the further, brighter light of Jesus. As John said, they need the cover of darkness to do what they love; and they don’t want to be exposed.
  • Others, having already received of the previous light of God and God’s work in their lives – receive the further, brighter light of Jesus. As John said, so that it may be clearly seen that their works have been carried out in God.

Now, this is not to say that those who love the darkness can’t at some point repent and respond to Jesus as his light continues to come to them. Think of the Samarian woman in chapter 4. No, John is simply laying out in general terms why some don’t believe in Jesus; why they are judged despite the fact of God’s love for them and his purpose to save them.

As you hear the good news of Jesus and as God’s light shine forth – Where are you at? Are you open to God? How will you respond?

The message for you today

God loves you deeply. Every single one of you! No exceptions. And he has sacrificed greatly for you.

And God’s purpose for you is salvation, not judgment, but rather that you be born of the Spirit; that you receive eternal life.

And this is what you need to do – believe in Jesus! Believe that through his lifting up on the cross there is no more condemnation and that through his ascension into heaven he pours out the Spirit upon us to give us new life.

Will you believe? Will you receive of this gift of new life today?

William Higgins

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We are continuing on today exploring Jesus’ interactions with Nicodemus in John 3. As you will remember Nicodemus was a devout and serious Jew, and he was a religious leader.

We also saw last time how Nicodemus represents a person with mere “signs faith.” These are people who see the miracles that Jesus performs, but don’t see what they point to about Jesus’ true identity and purpose. So they “believe” in a sense – there’s something special about Jesus.

  • But they don’t get who he truly is, the eternal Son of God. He is something less than this.
  • And they don’t get what he has truly come to do, bring eternal life. He does something less than this.

Nicodemus himself says to Jesus in v. 2, “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.” He has some measure of faith in Jesus, but for him Jesus is only a teacher, who perhaps has some special teaching from God. So he has come to Jesus, by night, to see what he has to say.

Let’s look at our verses:

John 3:3-8

3Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” The phrase “truly, truly” means this is very important. “Listen up!,” Jesus is saying.

The word for “born from above” (anothen) can also be translated as “born again.” Born from above is the best translation overall in the Gospel of John (see 3:31), but it does have a double meaning as we will see, which includes the idea of being born again.

To be “born from above” is another way of saying “born of God” which John talks about in chapter 1. “From above” is a reference to God. “Born from above” also means the same thing as “born of the Spirit,” a phrase that is used three times in our verses (vs. 5, 6, 8).

Where does this idea come from? Well in the Old Testament there were many promises that God would one day pour out his Spirit on his people. For instance Ezekiel 36:26-27 says in part, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new Spirit I will put within you. . . . And I will put my Spirit within you . . ..” So Jesus is saying, the promises are coming true ! This is the age of the Spirit that was foretold and this is the new birth I am talking about.

This fits also with the language here of seeing and entering the Kingdom of God (which is quite rare in John and is usually replaced with the language of eternal life). That’s because it is when the kingdom comes, that the Spirit is to come.

So Jesus isn’t saying that Nicodemus should have already experienced new birth. This is the new thing that Jesus has come to bring – the kingdom of God, the time of the Spirit, when all can be born of the Spirit.

Notice that Jesus takes the last part of Nicodemus’ statement in v. 2 and uses it to make his point here. Nicodemus had said 1. no one is able (translating more literally); 2. to do these signs that you do (that he has seen); 3. unless God is with him.

Jesus reworks these phrases. 1. no one is able (same word for able, with a negative); 2. to see the kingdom of God – what Jesus is really about, not signs but the coming of the kingdom and the Spirit; 3. unless one is born from above. It’s not about Jesus being authenticated by miracles as a teacher. The signs point out that Jesus is the one who brings the new life of the kingdom of God.

4Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a person be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’” He takes Jesus’ word here as “born again,” and in a natural sense, as another physical birth later in life. (Is he being sarcastic? It is hard to hear the tone in a written document).

This is a common mistake noted in John. People misunderstand Jesus in an overly literal way.

5Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’”

Jesus responds that it is another birth, or second birth, that comes after our physical birth (so it is being born again). But it is a birth of the Spirit, not a physical one.

  • Our physical birth is represented in v. 5 by the phrase, “born of water,” the idea is that a child comes out of the waters of the womb. We all have this. But not all are born of water and “born of the Spirit.” This is another, different kind of birth.
  • Again, our physical birth is represented in v. 6 by the phrase, “that which is born of the flesh” (in parallel with “born of water”). We have all been born of the flesh. But not all are also “born of the Spirit.” This is another, different kind of birth.

John has already made this point in 1:12-13. “12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” This is a birth that is of God, not of the flesh.

Why can’t one “enter” the kingdom without new birth? The kingdom of God has to do with the life of God by the Spirit. Mere physical life is inadequate to experience this life of the kingdom. It is of another order and kind of life. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:50, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”

Only those who have the life of God in them now, and are a part of the kingdom begun, will be bodily raised on the last day to have eternal life in the fullness of the kingdom.

7Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You (all) must be born from above.’”

“You” is plural, which is why I have it as “you all.” Here we see that Nicodemus represents a larger group or groups.

  • Even though he has signs faith it is inadequate. He, and all those like him, must be born from above.
  • Even though he is a Pharisee and religiously devout, he, and all those like him, must be born from above.
  • Even though he is a ruler and leader among the people of God, he, and all those like him, must be born from above.

And of course, Jesus has already made the point that “no one” can see or enter the kingdom of God without being born from above. That’s why it is a “must” or as it can be translated, a “necessity.” Everyone must receive the gift of new life that Jesus brings.

He then comes back to Nicodemus’ how question. As he just said, “do not marvel,” that is, don’ get caught up trying to figure out how it happens.8The 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.”

There is a wordplay in these verses. The same word is used for wind and Spirit, in both Hebrew and Greek. Like the wind, so the Spirit.

  • The wind is mysterious. You hear it, the effect of it, but there’s a lot you don’t know about it – where it comes from and where it goes.
  • So the Spirit is mysterious. You can notice the effects of the Spirit. But there’s a lot you don’t know about how the Spirit works. (“where it comes from and where it goes” sounds like what Jesus says about himself in several places in the Gospel)

When he goes on to say, “so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,” he doesn’t mean that we are mysterious, but that how we are born of the Spirit is mysterious. Those born of the Spirit can’t explain everything, but they can see and know the evidences of the Spirit’s work in their lives.

The point

These verses teach us that Jesus is not just a special teacher from God, come to give some special teaching – although he does this in our passage. Nicodemus and the other signs faith believers have it wrong. Jesus has come to bring the new birth of the Spirit; he has come to bring in the beginning of the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ message to us is a straightforward challenge –

Are you born of the Spirit?

Jesus is saying to each one of us, “You are not an exception!” As he said, no one can see or enter the kingdom unless they are born from above.

  • You can be a good person. Nicodemus was. But he didn’t have it yet.
  • You can be deeply religious. Nicodemus was. But he didn’t have it yet.
  • You can be a part of the church or even a leader. Nicodemus was. But he didn’t have it yet.
  • You can think that Jesus is special and sent from God. Nicodemus did. But he didn’t have it yet.

There can be no exceptions, because it is an impossibility that we are dealing with. Flesh alone cannot possess the life of the kingdom. This is why it is absolutely necessary that you be born of the Spirit.

If you want the new life that Jesus brings, you must believe that he is the eternal Son of God who has come to give this to you. You must believe and then act on this belief by receiving the new life that he gives.

William Higgins

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We are starting back into our series on the Gospel of John, with a specific  focus for the next few weeks on Jesus’ interactions with Nicodemus.

As you will remember, so far in the story:

  • Jesus has been certified by John the Baptist as the Messiah.
  • He has gathered together his first disciples.
  • He has performed his first recorded miracle – turning water into wine; a private miracle.
  • And in chapter 2, although we didn’t cover this, Jesus has launched his public ministry, by means of clearing the temple in Jerusalem.

Our text today picks up just after this, while he is still in Jerusalem.

Nicodemus’ faith

2:23Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.”

Our verse talks about Jesus doing signs in Jerusalem. These aren’t narrated. As John 20:30 tells us, Jesus did many signs or miracles that are not recorded (Also 21:25). This is probably referring to various healings that Jesus did. 

Jesus performed signs in order to lead people to believe in him. And at least on some level it worked here, for it says, “many believed in his name,” when they saw him perform these miracles.

But on another level, it didn’t work here. 24But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25and needed no one to bear witness about a person, for he himself knew what was in a person.”

This doesn’t come out in English very well, but v. 23 and v. 24 use the same word.

  • “many believed/trusted in his name” – v. 23
  • “but Jesus on his part did not believe/entrust himself to them” – v. 24

It’s like Jesus is saying, ‘you believe in me? I don’t believe in you! You trust me? I don’t trust you! At least not yet.’

And he was able to know that there was a problem, John tells us, because “he himself knew what was in a person.” We have already seen this in his interactions with Peter and Nathanael. He knew their character and what was in their hearts, and will see this again in John’s gospel, for instance with the Samaritan woman.

What’s the problem that Jesus saw in them?? Why doesn’t Jesus entrust himself to them? They only had what can be called “signs faith.” As I said, Jesus performed signs to lead people to believe in him (John 1:51; 20:30-31). But sometimes when people believed based on signs, their faith turned out to be inadequate.

In the Gospels, and especially in John, miracles are more than just acts of power. They are precisely “signs.” That is, they point beyond themselves to something about Jesus’ identity and purpose. Jesus isn’t about miracles. This is “signs faith.” Miracles are about Jesus, teaching us who he is, which leads to true faith.

So when Jesus does a sign, people are to see, not just the miracle, but what it says about Jesus. For instance when Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, it’s not just about an amazing miracle. It points to the fact that  Jesus is, as he says, “the resurrection and the life,” and that he has come to bring eternal life to all. But mere “signs faith” doesn’t get what the signs tell us about who Jesus is and what he has come to do. 

So when you only have signs faith,  you may honor Jesus as special. 

  • But you don’t understand who Jesus truly is; you don’t get it; you don’t see the bigger picture. And so you end up with some lesser version of Jesus – a teacher (3:2), a prophet (6:14), even the Messiah, but a distorted understanding of what it means to be the Messiah (also 6:14).
  • And because you don’t understand who Jesus truly is, you also don’t get what Jesus has truly come to give. You end up with something lesser – a teaching (3), a miracle (6:2), bread (6:26), an earthly ruler (6:15). Things that have to do with your needs in this life.

“Signs faith” is an inadequate faith in Jesus; it distorts who Jesus is and what he is up to.

3:1Now there was a person of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This one came to Jesus by night . . ..” After talking about those with mere “signs faith,” Nicodemus is presented here as a representative of this inadequate faith. This comes out in two ways:

  • v. 25 says that Jesus “knew what was in a person” speaking of those with mere “signs faith.” And then 3:1 says, “now there was a person” (same word) who came to Jesus. This is a clue for us.
  • And 3:2 says, “this one” came to Jesus – that is, this one who represents this kind of believer. (In both cases I have modified the ESV to help bring this out.)

We learn more about Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, a member of a strict and devout sect of Judaism. We are also told that Nicodemus was “a ruler of the Jews.” He was most likely on the Sanhedrin, the ruling body in Jerusalem. He was an important person. Later in v. 10 Jesus calls him “the teacher of Israel.”

Notice that he came to Jesus “by night.” Most likely he didn’t want to be publicly identified with Jesus. He wanted a secret meeting. But there is also some symbolism going on here. Darkness in the Gospel of John represents the realm that doesn’t know God and that stands in opposition to God (1:5).

2 . . .  and (Nicodemus) 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.’” This is a nice confession of faith for one who has mere “signs faith” in Jesus. (Notice he repeats the phrase of v. 23 “the signs that he was doing” here as “these signs that you do.”)

He is saying, “Jesus, because you do signs, there is something special about you. We believe this. We know this.” But since he doesn’t get what the signs point to about Jesus, his understanding of  Jesus and what he has come to give is wrong.

Who is Jesus? In this case he is merely a teacher come from God. What has Jesus come to give? Perhaps he has come with some special teaching or message from God. Despite his honoring of Jesus and some measure of faith, he is still represented as not yet being in the light; and as someone whom Jesus doesn’t trust.

So these verses give us the introduction to the Nicodemus story. Jesus will go on to correct him about who he is and what he has come to give.

  • In vs. 3-8 – Jesus is not just giving a new teaching, he is bringing in the kingdom of God itself and the possibility of being born of the Spirit; of receiving new life from God.
  • In vs. 9-15 – Jesus is not simply a teacher. He is the Son of Man come from heaven to die on the cross to make eternal life available to all.

Looking at Nicodemus helps us to learns some things about –

Inadequate faith today

1. Many today don’t truly understand who Jesus is or what he came to give. In the world Jesus can be a popular person. And in general people want to have Jesus on their side. They see him as special for one reason or another.

But they don’t get from his life and deeds who he truly is. Jesus is just a teacher, or a prophet, or a model political revolutionary, or a mystic or a wonderworker. And since they don’t understand who   Jesus really is, they don’t understand what he came to give. He give just a life philosophy, an ethical system, a model of political action, a spiritual experience, or magical fixes for our lives. 

They don’t understand that Jesus is the eternal Son of God who has come to give eternal life to all who believe. And so they don’t receive this.

So these are people who “believe” in some sense, but their faith is inadequate. They are still in darkness. And Jesus doesn’t entrust himself to them.

But it’s not just people who don’t go to church. 2. Some who come to church, don’t truly understand who Jesus is or what he came to give. Nicodemus was a very religious person. He was devout and he was a religious leader.

And there are some today who come to church who have a form of faith. They honor Jesus, but their faith is also inadequate. And so, since they don’t get who Jesus really is – the eternal Son of God, they don’t receive the eternal life that he came to give. This is truly a tragedy.

3. Christians can have some of the traits of “signs faith.” We do this when we allow our faith to be based on Jesus’ miracles, and receiving these from him. Jesus is not about miracles, the miracles are about Jesus.

So our belief never moves from seeing miracles,  to trusting in Jesus and his word to us and being content with this, even if he never gives us any (more) miracles. Now, I’m not saying that Jesus doesn’t still do miracles, he does. But they are not to be the focus, so that this is why we follow after Jesus; so that we seek to receive from him what we need or want for our life in this world; our health and wealth.

Yes, God does miracles, but it is not God’s purpose to salvage our lives in this world -by means of making things perfect here and now through miracles. God is about the bigger project of life on earth in a new creation at the resurrection.

This is a call for all of us to examine ourselves. Do we have “signs faith” or something like this? Are you still in the darkness? Does Jesus not trust you?

Give yourself to fully believe that he is the eternal Son of God who has come to give eternal life to all who believe, and you will receive this gift that he has come to give.

William Higgins

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We’re back in the Gospel of John today. We looked at the introduction and how the Word, or God’s Son brings light and life, and grace and truth. We also learned a lesson from John the Baptist about knowing our place in God’s plan.

And last week we saw how John the Baptist’s identifies Jesus as the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and what this means. And you received a call to be filled with the Spirit.

Today we look at how the good news about Jesus begins to spread. Let’s read John 1:35-49. 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, “So 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!”

Let’s see what we can learn about the spread of the good news from our passage.

1. We learn what the good news is

If someone came to you and said, “Hey, I want to be Christian, can you tell me how?” What would you say? Where would you begin? Do you know how to articulate the gospel??

Well there are lots of expressions of the good news in these verses and they can help us. First we have in v. 36 John the Baptist’s words to Andrew and his companion, “Behold, the lamb of God.” John most likely is referring to Jesus’ sinlessness, just as sacrificial lambs had to be without blemish. [It is unlikely that John the Baptist understood that Jesus would die on the cross.]  And if we allow Revelation 6:16 to guide us, the Lamb is also the judge of the world. He is saying, “look the Messiah is here!”

Then we have in v. 41 Andrew’s words to Peter, “We have found the Messiah.” The same message. “Messiah” is the Hebrew word that means “anointed one”; Christ is the same word but comes from Greek into English. The anointed one refers to the one anointed by God to save and to rule the world.

In v. 45 Phillip says to Nathaniel, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote . . ..”There are a number of prophecies and hints of the Messiah in the Old Testament. Here’s one example from Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” Philip is saying, “he’s here!”

And finally in v. 49 Nathaniel says to Jesus, “You are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel!” The phrase “Son of God” has to do with those who rule. It was a title used for the kings of Israel. So the two phrases here blend together nicely. The promised ruler has come.

[All that is confessed is true for sure. Jesus is the Messiah. But from the point of view of the writer of John, they have much to learn still about the eternal Word made flesh.]

Notice the positive content in all this. It is, after all, good news we are to share. And in each case the focus is on how the promised one has come! He’s here! We’ve found him! The one sent by God. Yes, the world is deeply broken. But the emphasis here is on fulfillment; how Jesus has come to save and to rule.

2. We learn from this passage how the good news spreads

Most basically it spreads though people. And as we go through this you can think about this question – “How does God want to use me to spread the good news?”

First of all, in our passage, it was through the preaching/teaching of John the Baptist that Andrew and his companion begin to follow Jesus. This is the culmination of John’s ministry. God revealed to him who the Messiah was, and here he introduces Jesus to Israel. “Behold, the lamb of God!” And two people began to follow Jesus.

And God still calls people to preach and teach so that through this means others can hear the word about Jesus and come to follow him. Has God called you to do this?

A second way the good news spreads is through sharing with family membersAfter spending the evening talking with Jesus, Andrew, first thing in the morning, goes and finds his brother Peter. He’s very excited. We have found the Messiah! He has good news to share and he wants to share it with his brother.

What family members might God be nudging you to share the good news with this week?

A third way the good news spreads is through sharing with friends. In vs. 43-44 Jesus decides to go to Galilee and it says that he found Philipp. But we also learn that Philip was from the same home town as Andrew and Peter. So it is likely that they told Jesus who he was and that he should speak to him. If Andrew brought Peter to Jesus, here he and Peter bring Jesus to Philip.

Then, it sounds like right away Philip finds a friend of his – Nathaniel and invites him to come meet Jesus. So the message spread through the friend networks of those who responded to him. (Thanks to Dale Bruner for these three points)

What friends might God be calling you to share your faith with this week?

This passage also breaks down some stereotypes about how we share the good news. Yes, we have John the Baptist, who could certainly be a fire and brimstone preacher. But notice in the sharing with family and friends these several things:

  • It’s confessional. You just confess what you believe, what you have found, what you have experienced. It’s not about a debate or who knows the most, or arguments. And its OK if people don’t accept what you say. You are just sharing what you believe.
  • It’s invitational. What does Jesus say to Andrew and his companion? “Come and . . . see!” (v. 39). You’re seeking after me? Come and see. Andrew then brought Peter to Jesus. He wanted him to meet Jesus. Andrew and Peter brought Jesus to Philip and Jesus says to him “follow me” (v. 43). And Philip brought Nathaniel to Jesus. And when Nathaniel wanted to argue about whether anything good could come from Nazareth, Philip doesn’t engage. He just says, “come and see” (v. 46).
  • The key is a personal encounter with Jesus. It’s not about us, it’s about him. And when people encounter Jesus – his compassion, authority, power, holiness – this is what makes the difference. This is when transformation takes place. Sharing the good news is all about people being invited to encounter Jesus truly and fully.

3. We learn from this passage what happens when people receive the good news

1) They confess their faith in Jesus. Andrew said, “we have found the Messiah.” Philip said, “we have found him of whom Moses  in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth . . ..” People confess publicly that Jesus really is the promised one; the Savior and Lord of the world.

2) They become disciples. Andrew and his companion “followed” Jesus. Philip “followed” Jesus. This is another word for being a disciple in this Gospel. In that day you would often literally follow your teacher around to learn from their teaching and example. Jesus says in 8:12 “whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

And Andrew and his companion “stayed with Jesus” (v. 39). This is the same word that is used in this Gospel for “abiding” with Jesus. It is another term for being a faithful disciple. For instance Jesus says in 8:32 “if you abide in my word you are truly my disciple.” And here Andrew and the other disciple are with Jesus and learn from him.

So being a Christian is not a one-time experience. It is about a lifetime of discipleship. These people had a relationship with Jesus. They spent time with him, they learned from him; they were his disciples. 

[Also, I think it is interesting that each disciple received something special from Jesus: Andrew and the other disciple got to spend time talking with Jesus alone, learning from him. Peter received a new name and a new role. Philip received a personal call from Jesus himself. Nathaniel was praised and experienced a miracle.]

 Have you met Jesus? If you haven’t, I invite you to do so this morning. May the words of Jesus reach out of this Scripture to your heart as he says, “what are you seeking?” And as he says, “follow me.” 

William Higgins

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