RETURNING TO THE SCENE OF THE WINE
I want you to think about the one or two places that have meant a lot to you during your life. Places that evoke fond memories for you. Where would those places be and why?
When I think about a place that evokes fond memories for me, one of those would be Cape Cod, Massachusetts. That was where Judy and I honeymooned 31 years ago. Over the years we have traveled back there and spent many anniversaries there. Why? Because of the good memories of that time and those places we visited in April of 1988.
Another place that evokes memories for me is Staunton, VA. Now honestly the memories I have of Staunton are not all that fond for me. But they did help to mold and form me into the person I am today. It took me about 40 years to want to revisit there but over the past decade I have learned to appreciate those memories. The reason Staunton is on this list is because Judy and I have made new memories there together. We now visit Staunton at least once a year and every once in a while I will still show her the elementary school I went to and the house I lived in for a brief period of time. It has become one of the places that we like to visit again and again.
Now that you have had time to think of the places that have meant a lot to you over the years. Do you find yourself visiting those places over and over again? Maybe it is the same vacation spot every year. Maybe it’s the place you proposed to your wife and/or the place you said yes! Maybe it is the high school or college you graduated from. How many have every attended their high school class reunions or college alma mater homecomings? Sometimes it’s not the places but the people who shared those memories with you that you revisit.
Why do we tend to return to these places over and over again? In a January 10, 2018 article on the Huffington Post website entitled, “Travel Experts Explain Why People Return To the Same Places Again and Again”, it states there are certain reasons why we do return to these places. One, is emotional attachment. Two, is connection to local culture and community. Three, because the place has a rich history. Four is unique beauty. Five is amazing food. Six is family tradition and seven is the special treatment you receive there.
In our text today, John brings us full circle as we see that Jesus returns to the scene of the wine. If you remember in chapter 2, there is a wedding in Cana and Jesus, his mother and his disciples had been invited. This is where Jesus did his first miracle of turning water into wine. Now we’re back in Cana, and John is going to tell us about a second miracle that Jesus is going to do there. Jesus didn’t go back there because of emotional attachment or because of the special treatment he received there or even because of the amazing food. Jesus went back to Cana because that was his Father’s plan for him. A couple of weeks ago Jason showed us that Jesus as he traveled from Jerusalem to Galilee had to go through Samaria. Now we know that he had a choice to go around Samaria which is what Jewish people usually did but God had a divine appointment for his son to meet the woman at the well and a subsequent mission trip to share the Gospel with other Samaritans from her village. Jesus has always been guided by His Father’s will for his life and ministry.
Everything from John 2 all the way to the end of John 4, should be read as one big story, or one complete lesson. It’s grouped together, because John is showing and teaching us something about Jesus. First, there was the miracle of water turning to wine in chapter two, then in chapter three he tells us about the encounter with Nicodemus, and then in the first section of chapter 4 he tells us about the encounter with the woman at the well, and now back in Cana he will tell us about another miracle. All of these stories are intended to show us our need for Christ… they’re intended to show us that only He can satisfy our deepest longings and needs. He’s also given us different word pictures to describe how we can receive Him. In chapter three that we receive him by being born again. In chapter four we receive him as our “living water.” Now at the end of chapter 4, he is going to show us how that works and it’s by faith. We come to Christ by faith and trust in Him. And that’s what we are going to see in our text this morning.
Jesus is coming off a most successful mission trip in Samaria and now he is returning to Galilee. John is going to mention that a prophet has no honor in his hometown and then ironically he tells us that Jesus is welcomed in Galilee. But as we saw back in Jerusalem after the Passover, the people that were flocking to Jesus didn’t have a true faith. Their faith was based on signs and wonders and a kind of desperation to believe in something but not truly believe in someone. And John wants us to understand from our passage this morning that we need to move from a desperate faith to a saving faith in the person of Jesus Christ. That is our big idea this morning. If you are here this morning and your faith is built on only having fire insurance from Hell that is a desperate faith. That is not the faith that Jesus wants us to have. Our faith needs to be built upon the person of Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross for us and in having a personal relationship with him. Before we dive into our passage this morning, let’s pray:
Dear Holy God, We ask for the Holy Spirit to come down upon each one of us and open our hearts and minds to what you want us to learn. We confess our distractions to you and we ask that you take them away at this very moment so we can be fully engaged with you. We ask for understanding and clarity and trust that you will help us to glean something this morning from your Word that we can share with those you put in front of us this week. We thank you for how you love us and take care of us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Our passage this morning is found in John chapter 4, verses 43-54. I am going to start by reading verses 43-45 which will give us some background before we get to the main story. This is what God’s Word says, 43 After the two days he left for Galilee. 44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.
The last we saw Jesus he had been talking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well near Sychar. Jesus told her everything she ever did and she went and told her whole village about this man Jesus whom she believed was the Messiah. In chapter 4, verse 40, the Samaritans urged him to stay with them for two days and he did and many of them were saved. The last thing John records is them saying, . . . “we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” Talk about an awesome mission trip.
Last week we talked about the last two mission trips we as a church took, one to Mississippi a year ago and the other to Jamaica in June. In Mississippi we ministered to 32 children each for three days while doing a VBS with them and in Jamaica they ministered to over 1000 people that week.
Now we don’t know exactly how many were saved during those two trips but one important point was that we were called to go and be Jesus’ hands and feet and we were faithful to that. Jesus has been and always will be faithful to his Father and because of his faithfulness many Samaritans came to know him as their Lord and Savior. This is where our story picks up at this morning
After two days of preaching and teaching the Gospel to the Samaritans, Jesus leaves for Galilee. John interjects a statement from Jesus that “a prophet has no honor in his own country.” Maybe John threw that statement in because he wanted to temper our enthusiasm a little so we wouldn’t be expecting a huge soul winning campaign in Galilee. But why go there if he thought he may not get a warm welcome especially after the successful mission trip to Samaria? It was because Jesus was not driven by success but by his Father’s will. Jesus’ mission was to do the will of his Father which was to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
Morris says, “He had come unto His own, not under a delusion that He would be welcomed, but knowing full well that He must expect a rejection. This would not take Him by surprise, for it was in the divine plan. So, to fulfil all this implies, He went to Galilee.”
As we continue to the next verse, we are expecting to hear about Jesus being rejected by the people in Galilee but ironically it says when he arrived there he was welcomed by them. John also says that these Galileans had been in Jerusalem and had seen what Jesus did at the Passover.
What are we to make of this? Well we need to look back to chapter 2, verses 23-25 which say this, 23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.
These were some of the same people who saw Jesus cleanse the temple during the Passover and perform signs while in Jerusalem. Do you notice what Jesus knew about them back then? He would not entrust himself to them because he knew what was really in their hearts. He knew receiving was not accepting. Sure, maybe they had a kind of faith, a hollow and shallow faith, in Jesus. But whatever faith they had was based on signs and wonders, based on the spectacular. They welcomed him merely as a miracle worker and Jesus knew that that was not enough. He wanted people to come into a personal relationship with him and that was the way to a saving faith. Yes, Jesus performed miracles and signs but they were to lead people to believe in Him for who He is, the Christ, the Son of God, so that they might have eternal life in His name. They weren’t meant to wow the people into only wanting more and more signs.
Jesus in Matthew 13, used the Parable of the Sower to explain to his followers and his disciples that there are different responses to the Gospel. He said that he was the sower and the seed is the Word of God, both his spoken Word and the Bible. The second ground Jesus talked about was the stony ground. The stony ground represented someone who showed an interest and awareness in the Gospel, yet their heart isn’t fully convicted so that when troubles come their faith is not strong enough to stand. This is what we see happening with the people here. They were believing in Jesus’ power but not the person of Jesus and their heart was not convicted of their sin and therefore didn’t feel the need to take their faith to the next step.
That reminds us of our big idea this morning that we need to move from a desperate faith to a saving faith in the person of Jesus Christ.
In verses 46-47 we are going to be introduced to a man who at first comes to Jesus because he had heard of the signs and wonders he has done. He exhibits a beginning faith, but his faith is a desperate faith because of the situation he finds himself in. This is what verses 46-47 says, 46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.
Jesus returns to Cana where he turned water into wine. There is a certain royal official there who found himself in a desperate situation. The desperate situation was that his son was sick in Capernaum. In fact, we learn that the son was close to death and the father who had heard of what Jesus had done in Jerusalem comes to beg Jesus to heal his son. Carson says, “The royal official approaches Jesus out of desperation of need, but with little thought as to who Jesus is.” Who was this man? Some translations say “nobleman.” A nobleman was someone who worked for the king as part of his court. The king over the area of northern Galilee was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who tried to kill the baby Jesus. This royal official would have been someone of importance, influence and power. He was probably pretty wealthy and didn’t want for anything.
If we look at verse 47 in the New American Standard version it says he frantically implored him to come and heal his son. The imperfect tense of the verb “imploring” indicates he repeatedly begged Jesus to heal his son. But he didn’t try to convince Jesus that he was worthy of this miracle because he was a royal official or a man of means. He just persistently cried out to Jesus. He was desperate because his son was sick and dying and he comes to Jesus in the beginning at a sort of level one stage of faith.
We can see a real truth already here in the story and that is “tough times can turn us to Christ.” Would this royal official ever sought Jesus out if his son wasn’t dying? We don’t know for sure but probably in all honesty, he wouldn’t have. He has probably already had his son looked at by the best doctors in the area where he lived and his son is still dying. We see the man make a 20 mile journey from Capernaum, where his son was, to Cana. One source I read made an interesting observation. Since the royal official was part of Herod Antipas’ court he was probably from Tiberius where Herod had his headquarters. So, this is how desperate the man was to find Jesus and beg him to heal his son. He probably put his son in a boat at Tiberius, which is in the southwest end of the Sea of Galilee and took him to Capernaum 13 miles away to the north because that’s where he had heard that Jesus was hanging out. He doesn’t find Jesus in Capernaum because Jesus was now in Cana. But his son was so sick he probably had to leave him in Capernaum and travel the 20 miles on horseback to Cana. This royal official pulled out all the stops to help his son.
Now I believe all of us would do whatever it took to get a sick and dying love one the care they needed. Sometimes it takes tough times to turn us to Christ but our faith can’t stay there. God often graciously meets us at our point of crisis, but that’s just the beginning. He wants us to believe in and follow Him not only because He delivered us from our crisis, but also because He is the only Savior and Lord and is worthy of our trust. We need to move from a desperate faith to a saving faith in the person of Jesus Christ.
We as Christians need to examine ourselves. Are we like the royal official and wait to pray until we are in a crisis situation? Do we keep Jesus in a box or on the shelf and pull him out when we are in desperate straits and ask him to rescue us. Then when the crisis is averted do we put Him back on the shelf and get on with our lives virtually without Him? Jesus wants to be in a relationship with us and wants to be worshiped by us as Lord and Savior. He wants intimate fellowship with us at all times. He wants us to have a real life saving faith in him not just a desperate faith that seeks him when we are in a jam. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to go beyond having a desperate faith to having a real life saving faith in Jesus.
Next, in verses 48-50 we see Jesus’ answer to the official and we see Jesus moving him to the next step of faith which is an obedient faith. Follow along with me as I read those verses: 48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” 49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.”
Now this might seem a little rude and without compassion to us as we read it but we need to remember the scene. Jesus has just come into Galilee and the people are flocking to him hoping to see more miracles and signs. The royal official shows up and asks Jesus to heal his son. Jesus knew the royal official and the crowds were not seeking him because they wanted to worship Him or follow Him for who He is. The royal official wasn’t coming as a sinner seeking forgiveness. He wasn’t seeking Jesus because he wanted to know him as Messiah. He was desperate and needed immediate help. Jesus’ rebuke, which was directed at both the royal official and the crowd of Galileans, was a gracious rebuke intended to help the man see his greater need. Jesus wanted him to move from his desperate faith to a genuine saving faith. Jesus never rebukes us to hurt us, but always for our good, so that we might grow in faith and holiness.
We see the man didn’t take offense at Jesus’ rebuke but he was persistent that Jesus come and heal his son. Another thing we notice is that the man’s faith was quite limited. The royal official wanted Jesus to come with him. He had it fixed in his mind that Jesus had to accompany him back to Capernaum to heal his son. And Jesus could have done that but then this man’s faith wouldn’t have grown at all. Often, we have a preconceived idea of how God must work to solve our crisis. We want the answer now or we want to hear an audible voice from him. This man was a royal official, he was used to giving orders and commands and people did what he said. Jesus instead says to him, I’m going to give you a command and let’s see what you do with my authority.
Jesus puts the man in a curious dilemma: The man said, “Come!” but Jesus said, “Go; your son lives.” By doing this, Jesus forced the man to believe without a sign. Either he had to doubt the word of the One in whom he had placed all of his hopes for his son’s recovery, or he had to believe Him and go. Jesus very skillfully drew this man into a deeper level of faith, a faith in his promise or word. Jesus demanded that his faith be desperate enough to trust his word, not just his visible works. Jesus answered the man’s desire to heal his son, but not his request to come down to Capernaum.
The beautiful thing is that Jesus attaches a promise to his command. He commands the man to go to his son and promises that his son is alive. The man had to put aside his expectations of how Jesus would work and just take Him at His word. Jesus wanted to move him to the next step of faith which was having an obedient faith. The man takes Jesus at his word and departs. He is obedient. It is in obeying God’s commands and trusting his promises that true faith is expressed. Do we put expectations on God? Do we believe what he says in his word about the promises of His provision? If not maybe this next step is for you. My next step is to trust in God’s promises and seek to move to an obedient faith in Him.
In verses 51-53 we are going to see this man’s faith go from faith in a power, to faith in a promise, to having faith in a Person. We will see his faith come full circle from a beginner’s desperate faith to the saving faith in Jesus. (BIG IDEA) Follow along as I read verses 51-53, 51 “While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.
The man probably had to spend the night somewhere on his return journey. He probably didn’t travel that night because he would have been exhausted and because it would have been dangerous to do so. Imagine what it took to spend the night knowing that his son could be dead in the morning. He had to wait til the next day and travel the 20 miles back to Capernaum where his son was, with nothing to hold on to but Jesus’ promise.
The following day, as he was on the way home, his slaves met him with the wonderful news that his son was living. The man was no doubt overjoyed, but he wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just a coincidence. So he asked them at what hour did his son begin to get better. They replied, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” Left is the same word that John used when the Samaritan woman left her water pot. It wasn’t just a slow, natural recovery. It happened instantly. The man knew that it was the same hour that Jesus had spoken the word, “Your son lives.” In verses 50-53, the word “alive” is repeated three times. Morris says, “We are told three times that the boy lives. John does not want us to miss the emphasis on life, that life that Jesus gives.”
Jesus only has to speak and the miracle is done. Just like Jesus never touches the water to turn it into wine, he doesn’t have to touch the official’s son to heal him. We see the royal official coming to understand who Jesus is and trusting him apart from solving his crisis. But it was a process all along. Faith is a living thing that grows and develops and Jesus was building his man’s faith one step at a time.
As a result, the man and his entire household believed in Jesus. The word “believe” in verse 53 speaks about believing in the person of Jesus Christ. So now the man fully believes in the Person, not just a power, not just the promise, but in the Person of Jesus. He has gone from the desperate faith of begging for Jesus to heal his son to the saving faith of being in a relationship with Jesus Christ that now extends to his whole household believing in Jesus.
John ends this passage and the chapter with verse 54 which says this, 54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.” The royal official and his whole household believed because they saw the sign that Jesus did. Jesus did these signs in order to get people’s attention. The miracles were like calling cards to draw attention to who He was. He did them to give authority and credibility to His ministry. But the miracles were never done just for the sake of the fireworks they created. They weren’t done just to entertain the masses. If the miracles of Jesus didn’t cause people to believe in Him and desire to follow Him, then those miracles were essentially worthless. If those signs didn’t cause people to change their lives and believe in Jesus then they were without value.
Bringing people to faith and commitment were what the signs Jesus did were all about. The same thing should be true here at Idaville Church as well. If the songs we sing don’t cause people to see Jesus and want to follow Him, then they’re worthless. If the prayers we pray don’t cause people to see Jesus and want to follow Him then they lack value. If the sermons we preach don’t cause people to see Jesus and want to follow Him we may as well not get up here to begin with. Everything we do should always be focused on Jesus. Everything we sing, say or do should point people to Christ. That brings us to our last next step on the back of your communication card which is to focus my life on Jesus and make sure that everything I say and do points people to Him.
This morning I want to remind us of the purpose of John’s Gospel. Pastor Stuart told us about it in his first sermon on John and I want to read it to us again this morning. It’s found in John chapter 20, verses 30-31. This is what God’s Word says, 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
I want to close with a story from Max Lucado:
There was a preacher who went to visit a dying man in the hospital. As the preacher entered the room, he noticed an empty chair beside the man’s bed. He asked the man if someone had just been by to visit. The old man smiled, “I place Jesus on that chair and I talk to Him.” The preacher was puzzled so the man explained. “Years ago a friend told me that prayer was as simple as talking to a good friend. So, every day, I pull up a chair, invite Jesus to sit and we have a good talk.” Some days later the daughter of this man told the preacher that her father had just died. She said “I left him in his room alone for a couple of hours. When I got back to the room, I found that he’d died. But I noticed the strangest thing. His head was resting, not on a pillow, but on an empty chair that was beside the bed.” Do you know what that old man had done? He was so in love with Jesus that he wanted his last moments to be resting in the lap of his savior. My prayer is that all of us will be so in love with Jesus that everything we say and do points people to Him.
As Gene and Roxie come to lead us in our closing hymn and the ushers prepare to collect the communication cards let’s pray:
Almighty and All-knowing God, We praise you for who you are. We thank you for taking us to a deeper faith in yourself. Help us to focus on you and to always point people to you. We thank you for your word that is alive. May we hide it in our hearts and share it with those who do not yet know you as their Lord and Savior. In Jesus’ name. Amen
All our lives we are constantly put in positions where we have to make judgment calls. Judgment calls are decisions that we make based on good, bad or no information. Each one of us will make thousands of judgment calls in our lifetime. Some are trivial, such as what kind of cereal to buy, what shirt to wear or what brand of toothpaste to use. There is not much risk in making those decisions and they are pretty easy to make though some of us spend hours on research in order to make them.
Some judgment calls are harder to make such as whom should I date or marry? Should I take this job or that job? Should I move to another town? Should I tell so-and-so about such-and-such secret? These pivotal questions are gray area problems that are the hardest to resolve – ones where despite all the research you’ve done and experts you’ve spoken to, the answer is still unclear. These are problems where it’s up to you, your experiences, and that pesky gut feeling to decide what is the best course of action.
There are three errors in judgment we all are at risk of committing: The first is called “representativeness bias.” This is the tendency to judge a situation based on one’s most prevalent experiences and beliefs about the situation. This bias can be useful when making quick judgments in day-to-day life, but it could prove dangerous in more far-reaching decisions because it limits our consideration of other experiences and information. In other words, if we only consider what we’ve personally experienced, we discount the larger picture.
The second is called “availability bias.” This is the tendency to make decisions based on what comes to mind most readily, even though it may not be the best choice available to us. Advertisers capitalize on our inclination to engage in this type of bias. If a certain brand of cereal is put in front of us enough times, that is the type of cereal we will think of first and, in turn, the brand we are most likely to choose. But there may be another kind of cereal out there that we’d like much better, if only it was on our radar.
Third is called “Confirmatory bias.” This is the tendency to make a judgment very early in the decision-making process and then, from that point forward, to only acknowledge information that confirms that judgment while ignoring all evidence to the contrary.
The good news is that we can catch ourselves engaging in these judgment errors once we are aware of them. Our ability to make the correct judgment calls has an obvious impact on the quality of our lives.
There are also judgment calls that we make on whether to do something that is somewhat questionable but not necessarily wrong. Usually we don’t count the consequences, we don’t think our actions all the way through, before we make these type of judgment calls.
Before I came to Idaville, I was working with youth in a church in Hanover. The adult advisors would get together and plan youth events and one of these events was a “road rally.” It was to be a kind of scavenger hunt where groups of youth in a vehicle driven by adults would drive around Hanover and look for clues and follow the route from the starting line to the finish line. So, a couple of hours before our youth meeting, one of my other advisors and myself set off to go around town and place the “clues” along the route they were to take. We decided to use lime along the road for the “clues.” We set off from the church and started to drive around the back roads putting the lime marks down on the sidewalks or on the road itself. I was driving the other advisors truck and he was on the back throwing down the lime as we drove around. After we had gone four or five blocks weaving around the back roads it was time to get on route 94. I guess at the time I didn’t think this was a big deal. It didn’t take long though for me to get pulled over by a police officer. As we were throwing the lime down on the side of the road someone used their cell phone to call the police. It seems as if what were doing was considered littering. In retrospect I didn’t completely think it through. We could have possibly caused an accident with the way we were throwing the lime down on the road. I made a judgment call without thinking the consequences of my actions through and it could have ended really bad for me or for someone else. I showed a lack of judgment that day.
What are some judgment calls you have had to make during your lifetime? Maybe you had to decide whether to leave a job and pursue another one. Or maybe you have made investments and had to decide which ones would be profitable or not. Maybe you had to decide whether or not to cancel an event because of bad weather. Sometimes that can be a hard decision especially if the weather forecasted hasn’t began at the time you have to make the decision. Of course we all have had to decide whether we are going to sin or resist the temptation to sin. Sinning is a bad judgment call that we have all made many times in our lives.
This morning we are going to be looking at John 3:16-21. We are going to delve into the most well-known verse in the entire Bible. But we are also going to be looking at a pretty important judgment call that we all have to make sometime in our lives. We can’t avoid it or have someone else make the call for us. It is the difference between spending eternity with God or eternity separated from God. Our choice centers around the person of Jesus Christ! Which brings us to our big idea this morning which is “our destiny is determined by what we do with the Light.”
Before we look at our text this morning, let’s start with a word of prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for calling us to faith, for planting your Word in our hearts, and for delivering us from our sin. I thank you for your gospel, your good news for the nations. Give us confidence in the power of your gospel. Grant us clarity in understanding your Word this morning and empower your people to recount your wondrous deeds to those we come in contact with this week. Give us love for you and love for one another. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
There are many wonderful verses in the Bible about God’s love, but few come close to describing His great love as succinctly and powerfully as John 3:16. This is what God’s Word says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
We are going to break down this verse almost word for word because the words themselves tell us a lot. We start with the very first word which is the conjunction, “for.” This word tells us the cause for God’s plan of redemption. It all begins with God and the cause is His love. God loved us unconditionally which means we didn’t have to do anything to get his love. This unconditional love is based solely upon His nature and His choice. It is who He is. In Him, we find the ultimate example of love. His love for us moved Him to take unprecedented action.
Next we see the greatness of God’s love magnified by the adverb, “so.” This word describes the manner of His love. It is not just that God loved us, but that He “so” loved us that He gave. This little adverb takes God’s love far beyond what we can think or imagine and it directs us to what He gave, which is his Son.
Last week, Pastor Stuart talked about being “born again.” How can someone be born again? The only way is through the unbounded, overflowing love of God that always was and always will be. We would not even know what love was without God. 1 John 4:19 says, We love because he first loved us. Our love for Him only exists because He loved us first. We wouldn’t even know how to love God or others if God didn’t show us his love first.
The next word is “loved.” There are four Greek words for love. The one used here is “agape.” “Agape” love is the love that chooses and gives of itself sacrificially for the best benefit of the other. It is a love that is not dependent on emotions and without this love no one could become reconciled to God. Through "agape" love God set aside His wrath against mankind because of their sin and poured it out on Jesus Christ, his beloved Son. Gangel says, “The cross does not show us the love of the son but of the Father.”
The next word is “world.” The object of God’s love is the world. John’s use of the term “world” here is in reference to all mankind. This would have been in great contrast to what Nicodemus would have believed. Remember – Nicodemus was Jewish… he was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. They thought God loved only the Jews and then only those Jews who were keeping the law and their system of traditions. They felt they were God’s chosen and special people, and they were the only ones who had or could have a relationship with the one, true God. But when it says God loved the world that meant, he loved Samaritans, who were a mixed race and looked down upon by the Jews, he loved the Greeks who were pagans and worshipped many gods, and he loved the Romans who had come into the Jewish Promised Land by force and occupied it. It also meant he loved Egyptians, and Syrians, and people from every tribe and every nation.
Also, for God to love the world, He would also have to love sinners, and even worse to Nicodemus, Gentile sinners. Yet sinners are exactly the object of God’s love. 1 Peter 3:18 says, For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” God loved sinners so much that He made a way for them to be adopted as His children. It says in Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”
The fact that sinners are the object of God’s love is one of the more astounding aspects of this verse. It means that we who respond to God in disobedience and hatred are still loved by God. It is easy to love someone that loves you, but God loves even those who hated him. It goes even farther than that because there is no one who is so sinful that God’s love is not extended to them. Abraham was the son of an idolater. Jacob was a deceiver. King David was an adulterer and murderer. The apostle Matthew was a dreaded tax-collector. Paul was a murderer and persecutor of the church. The early believers in Ephesus were pagans who practiced witch craft. Those in the church at Corinth included those who practiced fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, and were thieves, drunkards, revilers and swindlers.
The next word is “gave.” “Gave” has the double meaning of being “sent” as in the birth of Jesus and of being “delivered up to die” as in on the cross. While the object of God’s love is amazing, the sacrifice He has made in the demonstration of that love is even more amazing. The nature of true love is to give of itself, and the greatness of that love is demonstrated by the value of what is given. God loved the sinful world so much that He gave the most valuable and treasured thing that ever existed, his only begotten Son. It was an act infinitely costly to God.
The term, “only begotten Son,” is a Messianic reference to the second person of the triune Godhead. Jesus is one with the Father and the one who reveals the Father. The “only begotten Son” is the eternal, living Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us. Though we cannot comprehend this fully, the gift God gave us as the demonstration of His love was the second person of the triune Godhead. There is nothing more precious or valuable.
This plan included the giving of his Son for the ultimate purpose of being “lifted up.” To be lifted up did not mean to be put on a pedestal for all to admire and worship. Quite the opposite, to be lifted up meant he would be made a sacrifice for our sin on a Roman cross and he would die for all the world to see and witness it. He was to be the Suffering Servant as prophesied by Isaiah. Isaiah 53:2-10 says, He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
Now that the gift had been given, God made us all an offer. This offer is a universal one made to “whoever believes.” The purpose of this offer was so “that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
The idea of believing is central to John’s gospel. He uses the term “believe” in one form or another 92 times and in every single instance it is a verb, never a noun. That is because in Hebrew thought, to believe is always more than just a mental agreement. It is more than merely reciting a creed or a prayer. To believe in Jesus means to adopt His words and actions as the foundation for my words and actions. It means that I make Him the reliable and trustworthy guide for living and that I follow Him in every area of my life. That requires a change in my choices, desires, goals and behaviors. It is a change in thought that leads to a change in action. Our whole nature needed to be remade as Pastor Stuart showed us last week.
The requirement to be enter into eternal life and not perish is by “believing in Him.” That means those having faith in Jesus and what he came to earth to do are going to experience eternal life with God and not eternal separation from God. By referencing the Old Testament event of lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, (which Pastor Stuart talked about last week) Jesus provided a basic understanding of what it means to believe. The Israelite people in the wilderness had sinned against God and were suffering the judgment for their sin. God provided a means of salvation of exercising their faith by looking. First, they had to realize they were in trouble. Second, they had to “by faith” and obedience look to the object of their deliverance. We are asked by God first to acknowledge our need for a Savior and second to look to Jesus and believe in him for our deliverance. When we look beyond ourselves and look to Jesus for salvation that look of faith brings eternal results. This brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is “to realize I am in need of a Savior and to look to Jesus for deliverance.”
Now that your nature has been remade or “born again”, belief results in an active faith that trusts Jesus and His sacrificial death as the payment for sin. It is a belief that understands who Jesus is as the Son of God and because of that seeks to completely surrender to him. It is pretty silly to say that you believe that Jesus is God in human flesh and then not do what He says. That would only prove that you think you are smarter than God. Tragically there are many people who live like that today. They profess one thing, but their lives demonstrate a belief opposite of their claim. They say they believe in God and Jesus, but they live as practical atheists. That brings us to our second next step on the back of your communication card which is “to live my life completely surrendered to God in my thoughts, actions and words.”
All of us need to evaluate our own personal commitment to Jesus and determine whether we’ve really believed in Him in that way. Have we really staked our life completely on Him and are we committed to live our life according to His desires, purposes and plans rather than our own?
In verse 17, we see God’s purpose for sending his son. Follow along with me as I read that verse. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The Jews at that time were looking for a conquering Messiah. They longed for God to deliver them from their current oppression by Rome and restore Israel to its former glory that existed during the time of King David and King Solomon. They were looking for the establishment of an earthly kingdom with a powerful king whose throne would be in Jerusalem. This king was to be a judge that would punish the Gentile nations and bring them into subjection to Israel.
This verse states that the purpose of the coming of the Messiah was exactly the opposite of their expectations. The Messiah was not coming to condemn the Gentiles, but to save everyone that would believe, including Gentiles. It is interesting that the root meaning of the word “judge” here means “to separate,” Instead of coming to separate Jews and Gentiles, Jesus came to “unite” all who would believe. The purpose of Jesus’ first coming was to save people from every tribe, people, tongue and nation and form them into one new group called the church.
The reason for Jesus’ coming from Heaven in the flesh was to save, but as we saw in verse 16, judgment is also indicated. Eternal Life for all who “believe” is contrasted with those who will “perish.” Holtzmann says, “Christ comes to judge the world “as little” as the sun comes to throw a shadow”, but ‘judgment like the shadow is the natural consequence of the world’s constitution and circumstances.”
In verses 16-17 we see the hope we have in Jesus for eternity but in verse 18, he gives us a warning. This is what verse 18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
There is a judgement to come, but it will not be based on any human division such as nationality, language or people group. It will be based instead upon the response of the individual to Jesus Christ. Do you believe in Him and what he came to do or not? Jesus didn’t come to condemn anyone… because everyone was already under the just and righteous condemnation of God. He came to rescue us from that condemnation, wrath, and judgment.
For those who believe, there is no judgement because Jesus changed the verdict. Paul stated it this way in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The person that believes in Jesus Christ has been saved from their sins because God has already paid the just penalty for their sins in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus was judged in their place. The one that believes stands before God clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
But for those who do not believe it says they have already been judged and found guilty. The perfect tense used here indicates that they have been and remain judged. Jesus does not remove hope of salvation by pronouncing this judgment, but rather brings out the seriousness of refusing to believe in the only begotten Son of God.
God set forth Jesus as the only worthy object of our faith. The ultimate evidence that Jesus alone is the only worthy object of faith is that God raised him from the dead. Rejection of Jesus in favor of any other way to God rejects God’s choice that the person of Jesus alone must be believed in.
Not believing in Jesus as your Lord and Savior is the equivalent to self-condemnation. God is not to be blamed but rather the unbeliever who remains in his sin. God does not compel anyone to believe. He has given us free-will to decide whether we will return his love and accept his son as the sacrifice for our sins. Their sin is made worse by the fact that that they are rejecting ‘the only Son of God’. To refuse Christ is to sentence ourselves. (BIG IDEA)
Now we come to the test of what saves or what condemns a person. We see this in verses 19-21. This is what God’s Word says, 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
What is the difference between believers and unbelievers? It is not a matter of innocence or guilt because they are both guilty. The difference between the two is their attitude and heart response to the Light. The test is what we do when we are confronted with Jesus. Our refusal to come to the light is how we know we have failed the test. It says the Light came in to the world and men embraced the darkness and refused the Light. They loved their sin more than Jesus. They loved evil and doing evil and they would never submit to anything or anyone. Burge says, “Evil and darkness do not ignore the light; they wage war against it and try to bring it down.”
Another reason for embracing the darkness is fear and the reason we are afraid is because Jesus shines a light on our sin. He exposes our sin and lays it all out in front of us. We don’t want to be confronted with our sin, and we sure don’t want our sin exposed to anyone else. We want to ignore it and pretend it’s not there, and hope it just goes away. We don’t want our lust, pride, hate, and selfishness exposed to the world, and honestly we don’t want to be reminded of it in ourselves either. Immersed in wrongdoing we have no wish to be disturbed. We refuse to be shaken out of our comfortable sinfulness.
We love the darkness because in it we can do all the evil deeds we want without exposure. We love the darkness, not for the darkness itself, but because of what it hides. The very fact that we do not want our deeds to be known condemns us by our own guilty conscience. We are living in moral and spiritual blindness that keeps us in the dark and loving our sin. We run from the Light because the Light will expose us for who we really are and by doing so we reject God’s offer of forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, in verse 21, we see those who do pass the test of what they do when the Light comes. It says that those who live by the truth come into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. Milne says, “Those who come into the light and believe are willing to open their lives to God’s scrutiny.” This is a painful, but necessary step to finding salvation and living for God.
Those who strive to do what is right have no fear of the truth about their lives coming out. They gladly come to Jesus and let Him examine them because they know that His words will help them to get rid of sin and what is spoiling their lives. They want their lives to be open to examination and be put under God’s spotlight, so that what they really are can be seen, which is a true child of God. Such a person’s conscience is totally clear. Psalm 139:23–24 says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
If we live by those verses, we will not mind that our lives are brought into the light because we know that anything we have done and are ashamed of has been dealt with by the blood of Christ. We are happy for everyone to see the light shining from us. 1 John 1:5-7 says, This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
So, we need to be walking in the light or we will make tragic judgment calls morally and spiritually. More importantly, we will be happy because God will see what we do and will be pleased with us as he is with his Son. We will have God’s full approval for what we do and what we do will be the result of a close personal walk with God. Only when the Light exposes our sin and Jesus cleanses us can we begin to do good for God.
That is the second part of the meaning of verse 21. Practicing the truth is never about showing our works as monuments to ourselves. Whatever “good” or Godly works we do are only possible because of God’s power to change our lives. God’s redemptive and transformational power in us is a tribute to his superiority, not our own. The principal work of God is that by His great mercy and grace, He alone saves souls and converts sinners to Himself. It is God’s initiative and God’s work alone and so He alone deserves the honor and glory of our lives.
Those who are practitioners of the truth and recognize the light as helpful will come to the Light. Those who believe do so because they have a different heart. A person must be humble in order to do these things. They desire to come to the light because they want to see God working in and through them. They want God to be glorified by their deeds. They see themselves as God’s servants and submit to His will and commands. That cannot be done unless there has been a change in their heart. That is the essence of being “born again.” There is no fence sitting with God. Either you believe and are saved, or you do not believe and you are condemned. Either you love and seek the light, or you hate and reject the light. The offer is given to everyone. What will you do? That brings us to our last next step on the back of your communication card which is “to love the Light and seek to live my life in the Light and not the darkness.”
I would like to finish with this true story of a Father’s love for his son because even though the title and big idea of the message today was about judgment everything we saw today started with the awesome love of God. Even though God knew that we would refuse and crucify his son he still sent him to us to save us. I think the reason that he gave so much was that he was hoping we would be so overwhelmed with the gift that all we could do would be to believe in him and be saved. Of course that was not to be and because of that there would have to be judgment and everyone one of us would have to make a judgment call. (BIG IDEA)
One day a son asks his father: "Daddy, will you run the marathon with me?" The father answers yes and both run their first marathon together. Then one day the son asks his father: "Daddy, will you run the Ironman with me?" Now the Ironman is one of the toughest challenges; it requires a 2.5 mile swim, 112 miles biking and 27 miles running. Once again the father says yes.
Rick was born in 1962 to Dick and Judy Hoyt. As a result of oxygen deprivation to Rick’s brain at the time of his birth, he was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. Dick and Judy were advised to institutionalize Rick because there was no chance of him recovering, and little hope for Rick to live a “normal” life. This was just the beginning of Dick and Judy’s quest for Rick’s inclusion in community, sports, education and one day, the workplace.
Dick and Judy soon realized that though Rick couldn’t walk or speak; he was quite astute and his eyes would follow them around the room. They fought to integrate Rick into the public school system, pushing administrators to see beyond his physical limitations. Dick and Judy would take Rick sledding and swimming, and even taught him the alphabet and basic words, like any other child. After providing concrete evidence of Rick’s intellect and ability to learn like everyone else, Dick and Judy needed to find a way to help Rick communicate for himself.
With $5,000 in 1972 and a skilled group of engineers at Tufts University, an interactive computer was built for Rick. This computer consisted of a cursor being used to highlight every letter of the alphabet. Once the letter Rick wanted was highlighted, he was able to select it by just a simple tap with his head against a head piece attached to his wheelchair. When the computer was originally first brought home, Rick surprised everyone with his first words. Instead of saying, “Hi, Mom,” or “Hi, Dad,” Rick’s first “spoken” words were: “Go, Bruins!” The Boston Bruins were in the Stanley Cup finals that season. It was clear from that moment on, that Rick loved sports and followed the game just like anyone else.
In 1975, at the age of 13, Rick was finally admitted into public school. After high school, Rick attended Boston University, and he graduated with a degree in Special Education in 1993. Dick retired in 1995 as a Lt. Colonel from the Air National Guard, after serving his country for 37 years.
In the spring of 1977, Rick told his father that he wanted to participate in a 5-mile benefit run for a Lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Far from being a long-distance runner, Dick agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair and they finished all 5 miles, coming in next to last. That night, Rick told his father, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”
This realization was just the beginning of what would become over 1,000 races completed, including marathons, duathlons and triathlons (6 of them being Ironman competitions). Also adding to their list of achievements, Dick and Rick biked and ran across the U.S. in 1992, completing a full 3,735 miles in 45 days.
In a triathlon, Dick will pull Rick in a boat with a bungee cord attached to a vest around his waist and to the front of the boat for the swimming stage. For the biking stage, Rick will ride a special two-seater bicycle, and then Dick will push Rick in his custom made running chair for the running stage. This story illustrates a father’s love for his son, and that love is expressed not just in emotions but in action! Our heavenly father loved us so much that he also expressed his love in action. The action was sacrificing his son on the cross so that we would be able to have a relationship with him and spend eternity with him.
As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in our final song and the ushers prepare to pick up the communication cards bow with me as I close in prayer: God, we thank you for hearing our prayers and our praises sung to you this morning. We thank you for opening our hearts and minds to your Word and planting it in our hearts. We thank you for the joy of being together with this fellowship of believers and may we continue to walk with you, today, tomorrow and forever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
Most of you are probably familiar with the three Back to the Future movies. If not, here is some background: The franchise follows the adventures of a high school student, Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, and an eccentric scientist, Dr. Emmett L. Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd, as they use a DeLorean time machine to time travel to different periods in the history of Hill Valley, California.
The interesting thing about these movies were the futuristic inventions that we saw. When the second Back to the Future movie came out in 1989 it took Marty into the future to 2015 and showed off many new-fangled gadgets that we were all hoping to see one day. The first gadget was finger-print-recognition. Throughout ‘Back To the Future,’ fingerprint recognition is used in multiple ways. One of the ways was to unlock the doors to a house. In recent years, we’ve also been using it for a variety of reasons. Locking access to confidential rooms is one, but a more common one is to unlock our phones. Fingerprint scanners are no longer seen as ‘amazing’ by many, but it’s certainly amazing that Back to the Future predicted them!
Another gadget was Hands-Free Gaming. There’s a scene in the film series where Marty McFly plays an arcade game. Others watch on and make sarcastic comments about the need to actually use your hands to play. While gaming hasn’t become totally hands-free, this type of technology has been implemented. Microsoft’s Kinect is particularly notable, offering games that only need motion detection to function. With the rise of virtual reality in recent times, who knows how long it’ll be before we don’t have to use our hands at all.
Another was drones. While we might not have reached the point of having personal drones on a wide scale, that time will surely come. ‘Back To the Future’ predicted that we’d be using drones for a number of reasons, including capturing images. Well, that latter part has definitely come true, as YouTube videos are populated with drone captures. Drones are still in their infancy, and their potential is far from been realized to this day.
Lastly is Video Phones. There’s a scene in the movie where Marty McFly gets fired from the comfort of his own home. This happens via a video conference system that connects multiple people to a video chat. While today’s technology isn’t exactly as it was imagined back then, it’s actually much better! The rise of Skype, Facebook Live and much more has given birth to a wealth of possibilities. We take the ability to talk on Facetime for granted, but it’s an incredible luxury and blessing for us to enjoy.
Why did this movie and its inventions fascinate us? Maybe it was because those things were too good to be true. But I also think they fascinated us because we could imagine the benefit and the blessing it would be to our lives in using them. I personally think about skype and Facetime. I actually used skype a few years ago for a youth leader cohort I was in. We would all get together once a month and talk about different trends in youth ministry and help each other answer the hard questions we were wrestling with. People in the group were from all over the United States. I was from PA, one was from TN, another was from KY and the person leading the cohort was from California. This was a great benefit and blessing to me because I didn’t have to travel to a central location possibly hundreds miles away to meet with the cohort every month.
I think about some other inventions that have arisen in my lifetime that could be a blessing to me if I was willing to use it. One is the self-checkout scanner at Giant. For some reason, I am hesitant to use it. I know it will be faster and I won’t have to stand in those long lines at the regular checkout lanes but I still refuse to do it. I believe that I will mess it up and cause more problems and take up more time than if I just went through the regular checkout lanes. Until I overcome the hesitancy the use it I will never believe in its blessings and benefits.
I wonder what are some of the new-fangled inventions and innovations you have purchased over the years to replace the old versions you had in your home before? Maybe you were skeptical to use them at first, as well. Raise your hand if you had a black and white TV back in the day. Now keep your hands raised if you then replaced that black and white model with a color TV? Nowadays some of you may gone from the old color TV to a new smart TV and of course now we can even watch TV on our cell phones.
That brings me to the next invention and innovation, the phone. How many remember using a rotary phone? How many then replaced that rotary phone with a push button model? Of course, even though it was a new innovation, it still had a cord attached to it. Then we had the phones that could be carried all over the house as long as you didn’t get too far away from the base. Now we have cell phones that we can carry in our pocket and take anywhere our lives take us. To Alexander Graham Bell today’s cell phone would be nothing less than a miracle. But imagine that you decided to live without a cell phone. You continued to use the old rotary phone or push button phone that kept you tethered to a wall in your house. You would never believe that there would be so many benefits and that you could be so blessed by having a device that you could use to call your family or AAA if you broke down hundreds of miles away from home. It almost takes an obedience to our culture to use such devices as a cell phone or the self-checkout at Giant before we can be blessed by it and come to believe that they can be used for our own good. Over our lifetimes it has been “out with the old and in with the new” when it has come to our tv’s, phones, radios and many other inventions and innovations. Most of these innovations if we are willing to believe in them and use them will bless our lives and make them better.
Today, we are going to look at a familiar story in John 2:1-11. In this story, Jesus goes to a wedding with his family and his disciples. While they are there a problem arises in which Jesus saves the day by doing a behind the scenes miracle that shows his love for people and his abundant grace. On the surface it is Jesus’ first miracle. It isn’t flashy or really a seemingly important miracle such as later on when he raises Lazarus from the dead but below the surface John relates some important principles that he wants us to take to heart from this simple story. One such principle from this story this morning is our big idea which is that “our obedience brings blessing that leads to belief.”
Before we dive into our scripture today let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that you would pour out your Holy Spirit on us this morning as we dive into your Word. Help us to glean from it your principles and your truths. Help us to hear your words, help us to discern what you want each of us to learn, and help us to share what you teach us through your word this morning with those we come in contact with this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you want to follow along, we are in John 2:1-11. Starting with verses 1 and 2, this is what God’s Word says: On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
These verses set the scene for our story this morning. The first thing we see is that John is keeping track of time. If you remember last week Pastor Stuart showed us John keeping track of time in chapter 1, verses 35 and 43 with “the next day.” Here we see “on the third day.” In the Bible, “on the third day”, always means “the day after tomorrow.” So this wedding took place “two days after” the call of Nathanael. Last week Pastor Stuart talked about the call of Nathanael by Jesus. In John 1:49, Nathanael confessed that Jesus was the “Son of God, the King of Israel.” Jesus then in John 1:50 told Nathanael, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” This promise made to Nathanael of “greater things” begins to find fulfillment immediately in this passage as the glory of Jesus will be revealed to his disciples. What is important about the time frame in this passage is that less than a week has gone by from the time Jesus appears in the desert where John the Baptist declares that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and the wedding at Cana. It is like John wants his readers to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is a real historical figure, God incarnate, and relates to them and to us a “week in the life of Jesus” to help us believe it.
Cana of Galilee was eight or nine miles north of Nazareth. It is also where Nathanael was from, which gives us another link with the immediately preceding verses in chapter 1. We are told that a wedding takes place there. Cana was a small village and so the wedding was probably a community-wide event. We are also told that Jesus’ mother was at the wedding and that Jesus and his disciples had been invited to the wedding. We can also gather from later on in verse 12 that at least Jesus’ brothers and maybe his sisters were at the feast as well. This may have meant that the wedding involved relatives or friends of the family. The Coptic gospels that did not make it into the Holy Bible tells us that tradition is that Mary was a sister of the groom’s mother. Another of these gospels says the groom is actually John the Evangelist whose mother was Salome, a sister of Mary. We do not know for sure who the groom is but this story is definitely an eyewitness account. It is important to note that the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry takes place in a very natural setting, one of the timeless celebrations in human history, a wedding. Jesus didn’t shy away from social events and interaction with society.
A village wedding feast in first century Palestine was a really notable occasion and a major social event. Unlike modern weddings, which are traditionally paid for by the bride’s family, the groom was responsible for the expenses of the celebration. The wedding festivities lasted a lot longer than one day and usually as long as a week. After the feast the wedding ceremony would take place and then they would be conducted to their new home by the light of flaming torches, as it would be dark by this time, and with a canopy over their heads. They were taken the long way around so as many people could see them as possible and wish them well. Once home they did not go away on a honeymoon but stayed at home and had open house for a week. They wore crowns and were treated like kings and queens. In this life of poverty this festivity and joy was one of the supreme occasions in their lives. It was in a happy time like this that Jesus shared.
So that is our scene this morning, follow along as I read verses 3-5 which will give us the situation that arises in our story. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
It seems that Mary was more than just a guest at the wedding and that she possibly held a special place at the feast. This would make sense if she was the aunt of the groom. It is possible that she had something to do with the arrangements because she was worried when the wine ran out and took initiative to solve the problem.
Why would this be such a problem? For a Jewish feast wine was essential. The Rabbi said, “without wine there is no joy.” Usually at these feasts people did not get drunk as that would have been disgraceful but hospitality was a sacred duty. Wine was a symbol. Its absence would mar such a joyous occasion as a wedding feast. The wine supply would be a major consideration since the wedding celebrations sometimes lasted nearly a week.
Running out of wine would have been shameful for the bride and groom. They would have been humiliated. It represented a social disaster in the first century. There were even known to have been lawsuits by the bride’s family and or the guests in these circumstances. Disgrace, humiliation, insult, dishonor and more would be brought upon the family with such carelessness as to allow this to happen.
So when the wine runs out Mary turns to Jesus to help her with this dilemma. That is when we often turn to God as well. This is a helpful model of intercessory prayer. We often turn to God when we or someone we know runs out of something such as strength, money or options. We turn to God when we run out of patience, joy or hope. We turn to God when we are feeling beat-up, burned out and when our sin has found us out and we realize we need help. When we have a need or know of someone else who has a need we should take it to God in prayer laying the need before him and trusting him to respond according to his sovereignty. The good news of the gospel is that God meets us in the very place of our need even if the need is something as seemingly unimportant as running out of wine at a wedding. This brings us to our first principle that I want us to remember from this story this morning. That is that God cares about every detail of our lives. This also brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card. My next step is to bring to God in prayer every need we or others in our lives have no matter how big or small and trust him to take care of them.
In verse 4 we see Jesus’ response to his mother, “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus’ reply has been taken as discourteous by some but in that culture it wouldn’t have been. It was a common conversational phrase that when spoken gently would have been a term of endearment. His response though has been confusing to commentators. Was he rebuking Mary for her implied request? Was he relieving her of responsibility by implying “I will take care of it?” or was he responding with a “What would you like me to do?”
“Why do you involve me?” seems to contain a note of correction. The Greek literally reads, “What to me and to you, woman?” This question asks rhetorically what the two parties have in common, and has the effect of distancing them. What they had in common was their relationship as mother and son. Perhaps Jesus wanted to emphasize to Mary that with her remark they had come into a new relationship. Think about what Mary must have gone through the last thirty years. In Luke 2:19, it says, “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” Ever since the angel came to her and told her she was to be the mother of the Messiah until now she had wondered about her son and it may have been natural for Mary to want some public revelation that her son was the Messiah. Jesus seems to be saying, however,” What you expect out of this will not occur. I am on a divine timetable and the revelation of my purpose will not happen today. In John when Jesus talked about “his hour” it was referring to his crucifixion on the cross and that was not to happen at that specific time and place. “My hour has not yet come” carries a double meaning: It is not time to intervene yet and it is not yet time for showing my glory, but God’s timetable did allow for Jesus to begin giving evidence of his calling by performing this local miracle. So while the hour of his sacrifice on the cross is “not yet come” it was already putting demands upon him. This would be Jesus’ first opportunity to work under the heavenly Father’s authority and through the Holy Spirit’s power to produce a miraculous sign.
What Mary and Jesus had in common in their relationship was no longer to be what it had been. This exchange seems to mark a change in the relationship between Jesus and his mother. It was still a very special relationship but is now seen in light of his Father’s mission and the shadow of the cross. Jesus cannot act under her authority as a son but must instead follow the course that has been determined for him by God. I wonder if Jesus’ reply was something akin to “you know if I do this miracle everything changes” because once I perform a miracle in public people will be forced to decide “what will you do with the Christ?” and that would include his mother. The relationship that was mother and son would now be changed to a relationship of Christ-follower and the Christ.
In verse 5 we see that Mary is undeterred by the mild rebuke, and aware that Jesus was not saying no to her request and that he would take whatever action was necessary. She tells the servants to “do whatever he tells you.” Mary comes to Jesus as his mother, and is reproached, but then she responds as a believer, and her faith is honored.
“Do whatever he tells you” is a timeless spiritual principle that lives on through the last 2000 years of church history. Mary’s faith stood strong and she was confident in Jesus as she told the servants to do whatever he said. Mary knew that Jesus could do whatever was necessary as long as the servants obeyed. This is true of us today. If we as servants of Christ obey and trust the power of Jesus, God is capable of any results. Doing whatever Jesus commands is for John the Evangelist the essence of discipleship. Which brings us to our second next step on the back of your communication card. My next step is to do whatever God tells me to do and to trust in his power. Mary having the authority to order the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to is again some proof that she had an important role in this wedding feast.
Now that we have set the scene and have assessed the situation, next we will see how Jesus was going to supply the need of more wine. Follow along as I read verses 6-10: 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
We see that nearby, probably at the door to the home, were six stone water jars each holding from twenty to thirty gallons for a total of anywhere from 120 to 180 gallons of water. These stone water pots would have been used for two purposes. One, to cleanse the feet upon entering the house and two, for the washing of hands. John, explains for the Greeks, that these jars were to provide water for the purifying ceremonies of the Jews. Jewish law required that hands be ceremonially washed before a meal and between each course. If the Jewish law was not heeded to in this way then the hands were technically unclean.
Up to this point I doubt that either the servants, Mary, or Jesus’ newly-acquired disciples have a clue as to what Jesus is about to do. Jesus tells the servants to fill the six stone water pots to the brim. Probably to show that nothing else but water went into them and that what followed was indeed a miracle of transformation. When the six stone pots are filled, Jesus instructs the servants to draw out some of the “water” from one of the pots and to serve it to the master of the banquet. The master of the banquet was kind of a head waiter whose job would have been to run the feast correctly, seat people and taste the food and drink. Now, here is where Mary’s words to the servants are put to the test.
I am not sure we can fully understand just how difficult an assignment this was for these servants. It was one thing to fill the stone waterpots, which was probably a part of their responsibilities. But who would ever think of someone drinking this “water?” Imagine working for a caterer who is serving a very large group of people at a banquet. In the kitchen, one of the large cooking pots falls to the floor, and half of the gravy spills out onto the floor. One of the employees manages to scoop up most of the gravy from the floor, which he then pours into the serving pitchers. Would you let a waiter pour it on your potatoes if you knew where that “gravy” had been? I don’t think so.
Those of you who are campers have probably stayed in a remote campsite where the water comes from a well, but is not pure enough to drink. You look for signs there that clearly differentiate “potable” water from that which is not. You would not think of drinking water that is not entirely pure. You may wash your hands with it, but you would certainly not drink it. This ceremonial cleansing “water” may not have been considered suitable for drinking which was why wine was to be drunk at such times. I doubt that any devout Jew would have considered drinking water from one of those six stone pots.
With this in mind one can better imagine what it must have been like for the servants when they finished filling the stone waterpots and returned to Jesus for further instructions. Not one of them could have ever imagined that Jesus would tell them to now take that water to the master of the banquet for him to taste. In absolute unbelief they must have thought, “I know Mary said to do whatever Jesus said, but surely He can’t be serious! We are to serve this “water” to the master of the banquet? When he finds out it is only water, and not wine, he’ll have our jobs. And if he finds out where this water came from, we’re really in big trouble.”
Jesus does not wave his arms over the waterpots, commanding the water to become wine. It appears that He never even touched the water or the pots. Jesus does not even tell them that the water has become wine, or that it is about to do so. As far as they know, Jesus is instructing them to serve water, ceremonial cleansing water, to the master of the banquet no less! This must have been horrifying to them!
As far as we know, the servants immediately obey Jesus. We read of no hesitation, no words of protest. The servants would have known they were handling water when they began to serve the wine, starting with the master of the banquet. The suspense of those moments between the time the master of the banquet drinks the wine and the time he responds must have been sheer torture for the servants. He sniffs the cup, and then sips. He then calls for the bridegroom—what is he about to say? The scenarios which played in the heads of the servants would have made interesting reading.
We have to conclude that the water became wine somewhere between the kitchen and the head table at the banquet. This demonstrates great faith and obedience on the part of the servants. Imagine who would have been blamed if it was just water that the servants brought out? This again reminds us of our big idea that “our obedience brings blessing that leads to belief.”
The master of the banquet is astonished when he tastes the water which had become wine. He called the groom over since it was his parents who were responsible for the feast and tells him he is surprised the best wine came last. It was normal in that day to serve the better wine first and when the palates were dulled serve inferior wine when the guests wouldn’t have been able to tell. I like how MacArthur sums up the water turned into wine by Jesus: This was probably the sweetest and freshest wine ever tasted. It did not come from the normal process of fermentation but Jesus brought it into existence from nothing. Truly this was evidence that Jesus was the Creator as we saw in John 1:3, “In him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
This was not just a sensational miracle designed to amaze his audience with his power. All of Jesus’ miracles met specific needs such as opening the eyes of the blind, or feeding hungry people. This miracle met the genuine need of the family who otherwise faced a social catastrophe.
By attending a wedding and performing his first miracle there, Jesus sanctified both the institution of marriage and the ceremony itself. That Jesus attended the celebration reveals his ministry to be markedly different from John the Baptist. Instead of being a voice in the wilderness, Jesus had the more difficult task of mingling socially with the people and ministering to them in their daily lives.
The quantity of wine in these stone jars would have certainly been enough to supply a large number of people for several days. Tenney says that in quality and quantity the new made wine more than satisfied the needs and taste of those who attended the feast and the leftover wine also provided the bride and the groom with a generous wedding present. That brings us to a second principle we can take away from our story this morning that Christ abundantly supplies all the needs of his people.
In verse 11 we see the significance of this miracle. Follow along as I read that verse. 11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
This was the first of seven miracles in the first twenty chapters of John. John’s word for miracles is “signs’ which is defined as a wonder with a meaning behind it. For John these “signs” are special actions by Jesus which reveal his glory to those who believe in him and which confront others with the need to decide “who is this Jesus?” John is concerned with Jesus and his significance and the significance behind these signs. These signs unveil that God is at work in Jesus and indeed is present in him.
We see two results of Jesus’ first miracle? One, Jesus revealed his glory, which means he puts his deity on display, by this miraculous sign. John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the father, full of grace and truth.” Two, his disciples believed in him. Now they certainly had some faith before but now it was strengthened, solidified and stabilized. Now they were ready to follow him anywhere. Belief in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world is a major theme in the Gospel of John. In the chapter 1, verse 12 John writes, “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” and near the end of his gospel, John in chapter 20, verse 31 states that the purpose of the gospel, the reason it was written, was that “you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Those were the outward manifestations of the miracle but what about the underlying meaning that John wants us to get from this story this morning. I think we see the principle of “out with the old and in with the new” here. The ceremonial washing of hands for which these jars had always been used was put aside and replaced with something new. Jesus came to fulfill the Mosaic Law and to exchange it for a higher law, the law of grace. Jesus would fulfill ceremonial cleansing with complete, spiritual, and eternal cleansing of his own blood on the cross. You could say that Jesus changed the old water of the law into the new wine of grace. This reflects the words of John the Evangelist in chapter 1 verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
The continual need for cleansing water reminded the Israelites that they were constantly unclean. But Jesus would offer his cleansing blood as the wine that would satisfy forever. Contrast that for us today in that we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins as atonement once for all. Hebrews 10:10-14 says, 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest (talking about Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
We do not need to continually wash ourselves because Jesus did it for us on the cross. We need to only believe and be saved.
I wonder if when Jesus held the cup of wine at the Last Supper and talked about the new covenant poured out for them, did those disciples remember the wedding in Cana where old covenant water became new covenant wine.
This shout of praise is again from the host of the redeemed. John did not see the multitude but he could hear the sound of it and he goes out of his way to heap up similes to describe it. He compares it to the sound of many waters and the sound of mighty thunderclaps.
The multitude sends up this praise for two reasons. One, it anticipates the return of Christ and his reign in heaven and on earth forever. It is an announcement of what will soon take place that focuses on God’s omnipotence and sovereignty. Now is the time for “his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The multitude calls all of God’s people to “rejoice and be glad” in anticipation of the reign of God.
The second reason for this joy is because the wedding of the Lamb has come. The thought of the relationship between God and his people as a marriage goes far back into the OT. The prophets thought of Israel as the chosen bride of Christ. Isaiah 54:5 says this, “For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the Lord of hosts;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth.” The marriage symbolism also runs through the gospels. Jesus talks about the marriage feast in Matthew 22:2, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” And John the Baptist calls himself a friend of the bridegroom in John 3:29. To Paul the relationship of Christ to his Church is the great model of the relationship of husband and wife. Ephesians 5:31-32 says, 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
Of course, our wedding dress is not of own making; like the white robes given to the martyrs, it is given to us. Verse 8 says that our wedding dress is fine linen, bright and clean and was given to us to wear. Our dress signifies the sanctity of God’s people which only comes from Jesus’s death and resurrection. Salvation is a free gift given by God to those who believe in Jesus and we prepare ourselves for the wedding day by living the Christ-like life that is described above. The righteous acts of the saints are the deeds that follow salvation as necessary proof that regeneration has occurred.
The next step of the wedding was the wedding procession where the groom dressed in his best clothes and accompanied by his best friends, leaves home to go get his bride. He goes to the bride’s house and escorts her back to the home he has prepared for her. Although the bride knew to expect her groom after about a year, she did not know the exact day or hour. He could come earlier. It was the father of the groom who gave final approval for him to return to collect his bride. This will happen for us when Jesus returns for us and takes us to the place he has prepared for us.
Now some commentators see a distinction between the bride in verse 7 and the invited guests in verse 9, but Caird sees no problem with the Church being the Bride and also the guests of the wedding feast. He states it is like John calling Jesus the Lamb and the Shepherd. Osborne states that “such mixing of metaphors was common in the ancient world to add richness to the imagery. I tend to agree with this view.
Mention of the wedding feast of the Lamb and his bride, is a signal that the climax of the drama is very close. Satan is about to be overthrown and his dominion is nearing the end. The angel concludes that “these are the true words of God.” This would be equal to the “Amen” in the Gospels. It was to anchor a particularly important truth and Osborne says it is referring to this section dealing with the messianic banquet. Again, I believe John as he has done all throughout Revelation, is giving his readers hope. Hope that as they have been wooed by God and their wedding day is approaching and have been invited to the wedding supper it will be the happiest day of their lives even though they still must persevere and be faithful in the midst of persecution. John wants them to remember God’s words are true and as they await their wedding day they need to continue to be steadfast and dress themselves in pearls and not pigeon poop.
The final verse of this section, according to commentators is not easy to interpret. We see John in verse 10 do something very strange. Follow along as I read verse 10. 10 At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.” When the angel says, “These are the true words of God”, it says John falls at the feet of the angel to worship him. Why? Again, commentators don’t agree but here are a few suggestions:
Maybe, it is in response to the magnificent worship scene we have seen in chapter 19 so far. The “hallelujah” hymns have established such a tone of worship that John has to fall on his knees. Courson says that John is so blown away by seeing the bride that he falls at the feet of the angelic messenger. Osbourne says John’s natural response to the incredible truths he has been told is to fall on his knees.
It may be John was confronting something in the early church which was the tendency of worshipping angels. In certain circles of Judaism the angels had a very high place. Judaism stressed the transcendence of God or the distance between God and man. God was both too distant and too holy to be approached by man so they needed an intermediary, such as the angels. When Jews converted to Christianity they brought this belief with them forgetting that with Jesus there was no need for an intermediary.
Since he was talking to an angelic herald, not to God or Christ, falling down in worship was inappropriate. It would be tantamount to idolatry even though that was not John’s intention. So maybe John was warning his readers about idolatry which has been a huge theme in Revelation. Idolatry can infiltrate our lives in many ways such as deception, seduction and coercion. We can also idolize our religious experiences and revelations. We need to be careful not to mistake the cause we champion for the one true God.
The angel rebukes John and gives him three reasons why he should not worship the angel. One, because I am a fellow servant who holds to the faithful witness given by Christ. Two, God is the only one who is worthy of worship and three, the true spirit of prophecy always points to Jesus. John wants his readers to know that angels are no more than the servants of God and must not be worshipped. God alone is to be worshipped.
The last part of verse 10 is also a difficult phrase according to commentators. It says “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Osbourne says that it means when the saints maintain the testimony about Jesus, the Holy Spirit is inspiring them in the same way as the prophets. Everything in the Bible, the OT and the NT points to Jesus Christ. Much of modern day teaching about prophecy focuses on what they think the future will be like, but any teaching about prophecy that does not keep Jesus in the spotlight is false teaching.
ONCE UPON A TIME there was a woman who lived in the forest. She was not far from a town, where she would occasionally go to buy staples for her kitchen and other items not available to her in the wild. For the most part though, she stayed to herself, choosing to live her own life, meet her own needs and enjoy her uninterrupted solitude.
In her younger years she had been hurt both physically and emotionally by other people, and as a result she had put up walls of stone and doors of solid oak that only opened from the inside, to protect herself.
The woman, like all of us, would occasionally grow lonely, and her solace during these times was found in the movie theater in town. She would go there and sit in the back row, watching the male actors on screen, then go home and for days after, dream of romantic interludes with these stars. Of course, they weren’t real; they were movie idols. But they were all she had. One day the woman was near her woodland cabin, attempting to repair the bucket that brought water from a well she had dug for herself. It was a very deep and dark well. To fall into that well would mean certain death.
The bucket had been attached to the well rope by a chain which had only ten links, but since the rope was worn she could see that she would have to replace it, and that is what she was endeavoring to do when she slipped. As she fell forward, a cry of despair escaping her lips, she clung to the short chain and her fall stopped.
At first she tried to climb to safety by the short chain, but as she struggled she looked up and with horror, noticed that a frayed section of the rope holding the chain was unraveling under her weight. She knew it was only a matter of time, and she would be set free to tumble into the abyss below her.
Suddenly a shadow was cast over the mouth of the well above her. She heard a voice say, “Stop struggling, you will only make it worse. Trust me and I will lift you out.” A strong hand reached toward her, and she noticed that her savior had deliberately wrapped the chain around his wrist several times first. After the hand had firmly gripped her forearm the voice told her to let go of the chain and trust him only. When she did so and her weight dropped, the chain wrapped so tightly around the man’s wrist that it cut deeply into his flesh.
Nevertheless, he brought her up out of the pit with his own blood flowing down her arms and dripping into the well. Once she was standing on the solid rock that surrounded the well she could see that the man was not really tall, and not especially handsome, but he smiled at her with kind eyes and with a love that came from deep within him, and as she smiled back she felt something she had not felt for a long time, and never this strongly. It was gratitude and affection and a desire for fellowship.
The man and woman were married shortly thereafter, in a small chapel in the town. The townspeople were there to witness her newly found happiness. After they returned home however, the woman quickly forgot the fear of the dark well and she forgot the pain this man had suffered to rescue her. She spent her days going about planting her own garden and repairing her own fences and very much living life the way she had before he came along.
The man spent his days not far away, building a beautiful mansion for her, having promised that when he was done he would take her there where they would live happily ever after. In the evenings though, when work was done and there was ample time for sweet fellowship, she would read a book or mend a garment or sit in the twilight hours and stare proudly at her garden, paying little or no attention to the man. Every once in a while she would hear him say something to her, but over time she ignored him so often, that much of what he said would go entirely unnoticed, as though he hadn’t spoken at all.
Occasionally during the day he would come along and offer to help her with something she was doing, but although she did not outwardly reject his offer, she would turn away or continue doing it her own way, seemingly oblivious to his presence. When her precious garden failed to produce vegetables and when her flowers wilted from lack of nourishment in the soil, she was angry and discouraged. Only then did she turn to him, but not for help as much as to ask why these things happened. The man did not answer these questions, for he felt that since she did not listen when he offered help, she would most certainly not listen while he explained why she failed.
There was a study commissioned by Post-It Brands in 2013 that founded you are not actually crazy when you forget where you're keys are on a regular basis. In fact, the results say the average person forgets four things a day. The study was conducted with 2,000 adults and the most common things forgotten in addition to forgetting where your keys are were misplacing your phone and misplacing your wallet. In total, most of the respondents were found to have forgotten over 1,400 things in a year.
According to this study, ladies, it should be noted that 56% of guys really rely on YOU in a relationship to remember things. The opposite is said for you; most women say they can't rely on their other half to remember things. There is also proof that guys are more forgetful on passing along important messages or remembering birthdays and anniversaries.
Post-It Brands says, “Our days are so jam packed full of tasks whether at work or at home, it’s no surprise people find it hard to keep track of everything. With much longer working hours, financial concerns and just busier lifestyles, even those with the best memory can stumble when it comes to remembering even the most simplest of things during a hectic day.”
So what are the most common things forgotten by people? They came up with what they called the "THE FORGOTTEN FIFTY.” Here are some of them. See if these are true for you.
Forgetting what you went into a room for, forgetting where you put your keys, forgetting where your car is parked, forgetting where you put your wallet, forgetting where you put your glasses or sunglasses when they’re on your head, forgetting your passwords or pin numbers, forgetting special days such as birthdays or anniversaries, forgetting a meeting and then double booking yourself, picking up the phone and forgetting who you were going to call, forgetting your debit/credit card in the ATM machine, forgetting to charge your phone, forgetting to flush the toilet or to put the toilet seat back down, forgetting to renew your car registration or inspection, forgetting to take your medication and finally forgetting to return library books
Those last couple are the ones that I have had trouble with over the years and still do. A couple of years after I moved up to Pennsylvania in 1987, I was going through my stuff and found a library book that had been due in 1979. It was 10 years late. They must not have missed it as I never received a notice in the mail. I have also forgotten to renew my car’s registration and inspection. My wife, Judy was stopped one time in my car with one of our youth from Hanover and was cited for an out of date registration. I think it was 6 months late. And then a year or so after coming to Idaville, Seth Johns and I were coming back from Gettysburg after delivering canned goods to the Gettysburg Soup Kitchen when I was stopped for an out of date inspection. I think it was only three months late. My biggest one even today is forgetting to take my medication. If my routine in the morning is changed in any way I forget to take it. In fact, one of the days I was working on my sermon for this morning I actually did forget to take my medication.
So, how about you? Yell out something that you tend to forget.
What do you think the following places have in common? St. Elmo, Colorado, Monte Ne, Arkansas, Monroe, VA, Tartown, PA, Aitch, PA, Ricketts, PA, Somerfield, PA. They are all towns that for one reason or the other were once alive and teeming with activity but today have been abandoned and forgotten.
The millstone would have been a very heavy stone usually four to five feet in diameter and a foot thick used for pulverizing grain into flour. Here God is telling us that Babylon is going to be pulverized into nothing, just as a heavy millstone pulverizes grain. It will no longer be a great city with great power. A stone of that nature would sink to the bottom of the sea. It could not float back to the surface and it would never be recovered. This stone is used to illustrate the judgment that is coming upon Babylon. It will be sudden, swift and sure. And it is a judgment that is forever settled! Babylon will be destroyed and will never be found again. We see a parallel in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in that no trace of those two cities has ever been found to this day.
This is stressed seven times in chapter 18 showing the completeness of Babylon’s judgment. We see this once in verse 14, once in verse 21, three times in verse 22 and twice in verse 23. Further, in each case the negative “no” or “not” in the Greek text is a very emphatic double negative that means “by no means.” This is the final incarnation of that evil city that Satan has used over the millennia for his purposes against the people of God. The destruction of Babylon that John is seeing will be violent, sudden and so complete that it will never be found again and will be forgotten forever. The warning for John’s readers and for us today is our big idea this morning. That those who align themselves with Babylon will be forgotten forever.
Three, there’s an end to the food industries. The millstones which grind the grain for flour will also stop. The food supply, which at that point is already in short supply, will now disappear altogether.
Four, there’s an end to the constant, twenty-four hour activity of the marketplace as illustrated in the loss of the lamps to illuminate commerce both night and day. The lamp which lights the homes and businesses will be permanently dark. A light in the window of a house suggests happiness, hope and family. All these are taken away when Babylon falls. The homes of the world will be plunged into darkness and despair! Darkness, symbolizing the spiritual state of the world and the system of the beast, will now engulf everything. Imagine how it would be to experience total blackness. This would again echo the plague of darkness in Egypt.
In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Throughout history God has always had a witness in the world. That witness has always been at war with the kingdom of Satan. Here God is telling us that the light of a candle will no longer shine. This could also mean there is no longer a flicker of the gospel to be taught anymore because the day of salvation for those who oppose God is now past.
As Christ prophesied, men and women will be marrying and remarrying without any real concern for marriage as a divine institution of God. When marriage is entered into, it will be a mere convenience if they bother to marry at all. Life during the Tribulation will go on as usual in spite of its judgments, which shows just how callused people will become and how much they will be enslaved to the luxuries and pleasures of the world. All the activities of this ungodly system together will pridefully proclaim, “We can be happy and fulfilled and great without God.” But it will come to a sudden and violent end. Note that we’re told that none of these things will be found anymore in the city, or seen any more in the city or heard any more in the city. The diversity of occupations indicates the impossibility of escape—the destruction will fall on all classes of people alike. The sound of silence in Babylon will be final and deafening and that silence will be a testimony to God's devastating judgment.
The third part of our text this morning is called the “Reason for Judgment” and is found in verses 23b-24. This is what it says, “for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.”
There are three reasons we are given for the judgment of Babylon being so final. One, we’re told it is because Babylon’s “merchants” were “the great men of the earth”. The expression “great men” in the Greek means “the chief, noble, the magnates of society.” These are the men who were looked up to, worshipped, honored, adored, and presented to everyone as the ultimate. They had the power in society; they controlled the destinies of men, and lived in the super luxury which everyone is supposed to want and that people think will give them happiness.
They were made ‘great’ in a strictly human sense by Babylon and they held their greatness over others in an oppressive and inhumane manner. Matthew 20:25 says this, “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.” And James 5:1-6 say this, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.”
It is because of this viewpoint that judgment comes. It is a perversion and a prostitution of divine values and priorities. These were people who worshipped and longed for wealth and luxury and thereby compromised their principles and priorities to play the harlot with the merchants of Babylon. Money and luxury was their god. To them character, righteousness and integrity meant nothing.
Thirdly, we’re told that this judgment upon Babylon is so final because in the city was found “the blood” of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth”. The word “blood” is plural which stresses the many deaths and the magnitude of Babylon’s crimes against the people of God all through history. Babylon as a system was responsible for all the murders of God’s people from the murder of Abel to the time of John’s Revelation and to the end of time. Therefore, because of Babylon's accumulated guilt it will be destroyed once and for all at the end of the great tribulation.
Jesus similarly lamented over the generation of the city of Jerusalem in His time in Matthew 23:35. This is Jesus talking, “so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” Jerusalem’s destruction was temporary, Babylon’s will not be.
At the end Babylon will be joyless, dark, and silent, and will stand out as a monument to the utmost vengeance of God. Babylon will fall and will never rise again. Her destruction can’t be cured or changed.
What a horrifying place this future city will be! What a dreadful system of ungodliness it will embody! No wonder God’s judgment will, at last, fall upon it so suddenly, violently and completely!
Pastor Stuart three weeks ago told us in chapter 18, verse 4 that we, God’s faithful people, are commanded to ‘come out’ of Babylon, lest we “share in her sins” and “receive of her plagues. But why do we need to “come out” of Babylon? What’s the harm?
In an issue of Atlantic magazine there was an article by Prof. Bernard Lewis of Princeton, the dean of American orientalists. At that time, before his retirement and disappearance from public life, he was a respected scholar and commentator upon all things having to do with Islam. In the article he notes that the two “expansive and civilization-defining” religions in the world are Christianity and Islam. Both of them, he says, have a problem with tolerance. And that is inevitable. For they both believe that they have the final truth from God and that everyone must believe that truth and accept it and live by it or else. Prof. Lewis, like so many others who think the same way, failed to recognize that everyone is intolerant in this way; the difference is simply what they happen to be intolerant about! Nevertheless in the article Bernard Lewis expressed the hope that more and more Christians would become Christians of the modern, relativistic type who believe that all religions lead to God, that there are many ways to conceive of religious truth, that there is nothing really important at stake in the choice of one religion or another. If so religion would increasingly become no big deal, certainly nothing to fight and die for as did the terrorists of 9/11. In that way we would all get along.
But to say that – and of course there are many others besides Bernard Lewis saying just that to the Christian church today – to wish that is precisely the same thing as saying that Christians should not come out of Babylon. It is to wish for the reverse of what John commands Christians to do. It is to wish that Christians would make their peace with Babylon, which, of course, is precisely what Babylon wants them to do! Then they will have forsaken Christ and gone over to the Devil, left the City of God to become a citizen of the City of Man.
I remind you that the Book of Revelation was written to and for the Church. This book was to be read in the worship services of the churches John was writing to. If you ask why churches go bad, why they lose their way, why Christian churches in great number, especially in Europe, the United States, and in Canada that once stood for the gospel of Christ, now spout smooth, vapid and toothless slogans to largely empty sanctuaries; why such churches no longer interest their own children; why they never witness the revolutionary impact of the gospel of Christ on human life; the answer is this: in every case they refused to come out of the world, they got into a double harness with unbelief, they weakened, blurred, smudged and then finally obliterated the bright line that distinguishes faith and unbelief, wickedness from righteousness, darkness from light, God from idols. They did precisely what Bernard Lewis hoped Christians would do! By refusing to keep the difference between Babylon and the New Jerusalem clear, by refusing to keep the distinction between the two kingdoms front and center, and then by refusing to live out that distinction, they lost the distinction altogether and became part of Babylon and didn’t even realize it in most cases. Many of Babylon’s most beautiful churches were once Christian churches! When Christians merge with Babylon, Babylon does not become Christian; Christians become Babylon! We need to come out of Babylon because if we continue to align ourselves with Babylon, we will be forgotten forever. That brings us to our next step for this morning. My next step is to come out of Babylon so I will not share in her sins and be forgotten forever.
My title this morning is taken from a Willie Nelson song called, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.” It also comes from Monday Night Football back in the days of Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Don Meredith. Don Meredith was a star quarterback in college at SMU and later for the Dallas Cowboys. His style was a down home, country boy image being from Texas. One of the funniest things he would do took place toward the end of games in which the outcome was obvious – one team was just too far ahead and it was a foregone conclusion that they were going to win the game. In this situation, Meredith would break into the old country western song by Willie Nelson…“Turn out the lights…the party’s over”. There is coming a day when the One who is the Light of the world, will turn out the lights of the world. The code name that is used here for the world is “Babylon.” What we have seen today is this evil city and its people in the end of time who are only worried about the “party” will be destroyed and will be forgotten forever.
In the late 90’s Judy and I were working with the youth at Uriah UMC just over the way from Idaville. For about three or four years in a row we would have a New Year’s Eve lock in. I remember our lock in on December 31, 1999. For weeks or even months everyone was worried about computers and other infrastructure in the area and the entire United States. What was going to happen when the clock struck midnight as we rung in the New Year and a new millennium? Would the world become dark and be plunged into chaos? Of course, I put a flyer together. I always thought I had a flair for the dramatic so would try to come up with a catchy phrase when putting events together. It actually comes in handy even now when I work on titles for sermons etc. So when I put the flyer together for this particular New Year’s Eve Lock In it read, “Where you going to be when the lights go out?” My premise was what better place than church to be at if “the world was coming to an end”. So as I finish this morning, I want to leave you with a question, “Where will you find yourself when the lights go out and the party’s over?” Will you find yourself aligned with Babylon, with this world, and forgotten forever, or will you be aligned with God and the Lamb and spend forever in their presence?
As the ushers prepare to take up the communication cards and the praise team comes to lead us in a final song, bow your heads with me as I pray.
Dear Heavenly Father, we confess that at times we are “of the world” and not just “in” it more than we care to admit. This morning we ask you for the strength to “come out” of Babylon. We do not want to share in her sins and be forgotten and separated from you forever. I pray that we would heed your Holy Spirit in our lives daily and follow your command to “be in the world but not of it.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Children ages 3 to second grade are dismissed to children’s church.
SUPER “COMMITTED” HEROES
Webster’s Dictionary defines commitment as . . . dedicating yourself to something, like a person or a cause. A commitment also obligates you to do something. Before you make a commitment, you should think carefully about the commitment you are pledging to. Some commitments are large, like marriage, when you promise to love and cherish another person until death, or a job, when you are hired you're making a commitment to show up and do the job well. There are smaller commitments too. If you said you'd meet a friend at six, that's a commitment. You also can speak of commitment as a quality, such as, staying after school for a study group shows your commitment to good grades.
I also like the word “passionate”. I believe that you show what you are passionate about by what you are committed to. I once heard or read something about commitment and passion. It said you can tell what you are passionate about and committed to by the emails you receive based on the things you have searched on the internet. At that time I looked at the emails I was receiving which was easy for me because I pretty much save my emails into folders so I can access them later. What I found was that I received emails about the following things: Youth and Church Ministry, Christian Music, the Bible and genealogy. I realized it was true. Those are things I am passionate about and committed to.
What are you committed to and or passionate about? Maybe it is sports or a sports team. If I were to ask you who is Pastor Stuart’s favorite baseball team, what would you say? The Baltimore Orioles. Why? Because he has talked about them a number of times in stories during his sermons. You could probably look around any given Sunday and know who is committed to what football team. Why? Because they wear their favorite teams jersey. Maybe you are committed to and passionate about helping people in need. There are many people in our congregation who are passionate about helping others. Hopefully, you are passionate about and committed to your families, your church here at Idaville and our community. I think yesterday shows how much Idaville Church is committed to our community. Every year we have the Hallelujah Party which is a free event for our community. It is a time that we show the love of Jesus to those in our community. We should be passionate about and committed to what Jesus was passionate about and committed to which was loving others and pursuing, growing and multiplying disciples.
The Bible is full of stories about committed people. One such story is Abraham. Imagine the commitment it took for Abraham to leave his family and his home to travel to a land that God would show him. Abraham was promised a new home, a son and many descendants and that God would bless him and bless the whole world through him. Think about it though, Abraham was never going to see the fruits of that promise yet he stayed committed to God’s plan. Another is Joseph. I believe that Joseph knew from a young age that God was speaking to him through the dreams he was having but I bet he never expected God’s plan for his life to include being thrown in a pit by his brothers, left to die and then being sold into slavery to Egypt. Joseph was committed to doing the right thing even in difficult situations and God used him to feed his family during a famine, set them up in a fertile land and turn his family into the nation of Israel and God’s Chosen People. We could go on and on. The Bible is full of stories about superheroes, not people with extraordinary abilities, but ordinary humans with ordinary abilities who do extraordinary things. What makes them superhuman is their commitment to and their passion for God.
This morning we are going to see people who are committed to the Lamb and because of their commitment they will be able to accomplish feats that are superhuman. They are extraordinary, not because they have super-powers, but because they have super-commitment. They love the LORD enough to make Him their first and foremost focus. His purposes occupy their primary priorities. They are the 144,000. We first saw them in chapter 7 as the ones that God sealed before the beginning of the tribulation. This was one of many interludes that John includes in his account of the Revelation that was intended to give his readers hope for their future after showing them the devastation that was coming upon the earth during the last days. Today as we look at the first five verses of chapter 14, we see another interlude immediately after John’s account of the beast coming out of the sea and the beast coming out of the earth. At the end of chapter 13 John calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints and now at the beginning of chapter 14 John again gives his readers hope as he shows them the 144,000 standing victoriously with the Lamb on Mount Zion. They have the name of God the Father and the Lamb on their foreheads. These names are placed on the foreheads of those who love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. The 144,000 are passionate about and committed to the Lamb. The 144,000 were committed to keeping themselves pure, to following the Lamb wherever he goes, to not lying and to being blameless. This kind of commitment super-power is available to each of us. It’s not an accident of chromosomal mutation, or magical intervention or alien invasion. It’s a human persuasion. Which brings us to this morning’s big idea which is God wants to use ordinary human beings like you and me to accomplish His extraordinary purposes on earth.
Before we dig into our passage this morning, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, Make us like those sealed for Your purposes. Set us apart. Focus our eyes to see the truth. Enrich our ears to hear Your truth. Teach our mouths to speak the truth. Train our hearts to embrace Your truth, and Use our lives to show Your truth, with all the love and grace you place in us. In the name of Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Amen.
A man in business for himself enjoyed so much success, he had to move to a bigger place. The move was rather burdensome, but it was nice to have a larger warehouse and a bigger sales office. So on the day of the grand opening a friend sent him some flowers to celebrate. However, the order got mixed up at the florist shop, and the businessman received a bouquet that was intended for a funeral. It came with a card which read, “My deepest sympathy during this time of sorrow.”
When the businessman’s friend found out, he immediately went to the florist to demand an explanation. The florist met him outside the shop and was obviously upset. He said, “I am terribly sorry about the mix-up with the flowers, but I hope you will understand. Your situation is not half as bad as the one down at the funeral home. The folks there received your flowers accompanied by the card which read: BEST WISHES IN YOUR NEW LOCATION.”
What a great card for the funeral of a believer! When we as believers die, we move from a cramped, difficult situation to much larger and nicer quarters. The move itself may be burdensome, but the new location is out of this world.
In John 16:33, Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Even if we go through a lot of pain in this life, even if we go through some tribulation, it will be worth it all when we get to heaven. This is the story that John wants his readers to understand. Yes, the events of chapter 13 are horrific because those who are committed to the Lamb will not be able to buy or sell and will even be killed if they do not worship the image of the beast but they can take heart that the Lamb has overcome the world and they will spend eternity in heaven with God and Jesus Christ.
Today we’ll be in chapter 14. A few things to note: One, this chapter is not chronological in that it does not take up the next events of the Tribulation following chapter 13. Two, most of what John is writing down is big picture stuff but chapter 14 is a smaller picture of what is happening within the bigger picture. Here John is seeing specific visions of peoples and events that are going on in the tribulation period.
From chapter 13 to chapter 14 we also see many contrasts: In place of the wicked beasts of chapter 13 we see the Lamb in chapter 14. In his description of the beasts, John repeatedly reminded us that the authority behind the land beast was the sea beast, which in turn had his authority and power from the dragon. Here in chapter 14 we see that standing behind the Lamb was the power of the omnipotent Creator. In place of a multitude of people worshiping the Antichrist in chapter 13 we now see a vast number of redeemed ones praising and following Christ. We also see the two marks. The mark of the Beast and the seal of God and Jesus. People will have declared who their master is by whose “mark” they have on them. One of the messages of chapters 13 and 14 is simple: the one you follow is crucial. The one you worship is decisive.
If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Revelation 14. We will be looking at verses 1-5 where we see a group of believers who will go through more pain and tribulation than any of us will ever experience in this life. In fact, they will go through the Great Tribulation itself; but on the other end, they will stand victorious with Jesus Himself and sing His praises. We will start with verse 1:
Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.
With chapter 14 there comes a change and a turning of the tide. We see that God takes over in direct and determined intervention in the affairs of the earth dwellers. From here on, we have a picture of a world rescued by God. We also see God’s response to the attack of the two beasts described in chapter 13. The beast’s goal, from the beginning, has been to stop the Messiah, destroy the Jews and persecute the church. Here God claims His own and begins the final harvest. Chapter 14 also gives a glimpse into eternity to show believers what awaits them if they endure. Their suffering will not be meaningless; it will only be a prelude to eternity with God.
So, we again see the 144,000. Who are these 144,000? Of course, scholars are divided. Half say they are the same 144,000 that we saw in chapter 7 and the other half say it is a different 144,000. I believe that the 144,000 in this chapter are the same group we saw in chapter 7 because there are many similarities between both groups. They were sealed by God before the tribulation starts against the difficulties to come on earth. During the reign of the Antichrist they are God’s witnesses, preaching the gospel of the kingdom and announcing the coming of the King. They are protected spiritually and sealed for heaven. Satan does everything he can to make their lives miserable. As we saw in chapter 13, he starves them to death, he persecutes them, and he kills them. He is able to mutilate their bodies, but he cannot touch their souls. Despite the rage of the dragon and the beast the 144,000 will be in heaven with the Lamb and the Father one day. They are now seen anticipating the great triumph, which lay ahead. They have been faithful and committed to the Lamb from the time they were called.
I think the most awesome thing about the 144,000 is that number 144,000. In chapter 7 God sealed 144,000 and now in this passage Johns sees a vision of the future and all those who have been sealed and promised heaven we’re standing with Christ. God started out with 144,000 committed followers and He came through the Great Tribulation with 144,000. In other words no believers will be lost, forgotten, or misplaced. Everyone who has been sealed with God’s seal will one day be with Christ. All believers throughout history will be with Christ. The promise is certain. The number will be complete.
The first thing we are told about these 144,000 is that “They are an exalted company.” They are exalted because they are standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion. The Lamb is none other than the Jew’s Messiah and Deliverer, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. John has dramatically shown the great powers of satanic evil embodied in the two beasts as they have forced the world into idolatry. Now he abruptly shows us a vision of the Lamb and His army standing on Mount Zion. It is refreshing to have Him appear when almost all of the people on the earth are worshipping Satan. God always has His faithful people, no matter how wicked the world may become.
It is fitting that the Lamb should be standing on Mount Zion because this is the sacred space that had long been associated with divine deliverance and with the location where Christ will begin his millennial reign. In constructing this image, John may have in mind the prophet Joel who had foretold of this divine deliverance. This is what God’s word says in Joel 2:32, “And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.” In traditional Judaism this is the place where the remnant of Israel would be gathered together in the messianic age. The statements about Mount Zion in the Gospels and the epistles are mostly all quotes from OT prophets but the writer of Hebrews alone stands out as bringing the term to one final stage of development. He sees Mount Zion as God originally saw it, as the place where all the Redeemed, not just the Jewish elect but also the church, would congregate. He saw it as the Heavenly Jerusalem where God Himself would be. Hebrews 12:22a says, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.”
So what does John mean here when he shows us Mount Zion? Again, scholars are divided. Half say it is the earthly Mount Zion and the other half say it is referring to heavenly Mount Zion. I believe that verse 1 shows the future with the 144,000 on earthly Mount Zion before Christ millennial reign but then in verse 2 John hears a voice from Heaven and I believe the scene changes again to an even more future scene of the 144,000 in Heaven before the throne. No matter which Mount Zion is being portrayed here or if it is both as I believe John wants his readers to know that those who are committed to the Lamb will be with the Lamb at the end of the Great Tribulation. Either one of these pictures would have given John’s readers hope as they continued to patiently endure and be faithful to the Lamb during the Tribulation.
Here we are also told what the sealing is and why they are sealed. The 144,000 have the name of the Lamb and his Father written on their foreheads. The company is clearly identified with Jesus Christ and the Father. The intent of the text seems to be to contrast those sealed of God and those having the mark of the beast. God is able to protect His people, but the Beast is unable to. When God marks his name on these people, he is declaring them to be His exclusive property. Patterson says that the Father’s name written on their foreheads indicates that they are especially chosen by God for their task. We, who are believers in Jesus Christ, also carry the seal of God and have been chosen especially by God for a task which is to Pursue, Grow and Multiply Disciples and after we accomplish our task, like the 144,000, we will stand victorious with Jesus one day.
John begins with this picture of the 144,000 that have been sealed by God standing victoriously with the Lamb on Mount Zion. Now John’s attention is turned to a voice from heaven. This is what verse 2 says: And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps.
In verse 2, the apostle John tells us that he hears a voice (some versions say “sound” instead of “voice”) from heaven and then gives us a beautiful description of the voice he heard. The voice he heard was like the sound of many waters. This “voice of many waters” is usually associated with the multitude before the throne of God. There is no power like the crash of the mountainous waves upon the beaches and cliffs. The sound that John hears from heaven will be very powerful. Second, the sound was like the voice of great thunder. No one can fail to hear the thunder-clap in the middle of a storm. The sound that John hears will be unmistakable. This voice will not only be understandable because of the power behind it but it will have the powerful booming quality of thunder. Third, it was like the sound of harpists playing their harps. Most commentators say it will be multitudes upon multitudes of harpists playing their harps. Not only will the sound be startling, but the very music itself will be a masterpiece that would make Beethoven, Chopin and Wagner envious. The sound that John hears from heaven will be the most beautiful sound ever heard by the human ear.
Next, John tells us what the sound from heaven is. Verse 3 says: And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth.
There are two notable things in this verse. The first is that this song is exclusive to this particular group of people, the 144,000. The second is that these people have been redeemed “from the earth” meaning God has “purchased” them by the blood of his son, Jesus. The song is powerful and beautiful, it is sung before the throne of God, and the only people able to sing it are the 144,000 whom God purchased from the earth.
It is the song of redemption, being sung by all the redeemed saints in one gigantic choir. They are rejoicing over the accomplishment of God’s entire redemptive work. The 144,000 were the only created ones able to learn the song because they had been delivered from sin and redeemed from the earth. They had been through testing and tribulation, observed what God the Father had done on their behalf and maintained their integrity. Heaven itself will explode in joy and praise to the King of Kings and all the people of earth will hear it. The Greek word John uses for “new” is one that refers to something fresh and new in quality rather than something that is created new from scratch. It is a new song because it is based on a deeper understanding and experience of the person and work of God which results in a fresh, new response to God. The same is true for us. It is only as we serve God as His agents that we can fully experience Him and hear Him more deeply. It is through serving Him that we obtain a deeper, more personal understanding of who He is. It is only as we experience His provision, His equipping and His deliverance first hand that we are truly able to sing a new song and give Him the praise that He so richly deserves.
I like what Courson says about our song. He says that one thing that can stand in our way to singing a new song out of the times of trials we go through is “sympathy.” We can either go through those times with a song in our hearts because the Lord has promised not only to strengthen us in them but to walk with us through them or we can chose sympathy from people. If we chose sympathy it will always be at God’s expense because the underlying though unspoken implication is that what is happening in our lives is out of God’s control. God is totally absolutely completely faithful to meet us in every trial and difficulty. Don’t let his plan for you get short circuited by those who say, “I feel sorry for you” instead say “God is good” and God will see me through. We need to be careful about saying “woe is me” or having a “pity” party for ourselves every time we struggle with something. Sympathy puts God in a bad light. Don’t settle for sympathy, go for the song. Which brings us to our first next step this morning which may be for you. My next step is to chose to sing a new song about my trials and tribulations instead of looking for sympathy from people about them.
In verses 4 and 5 John tells us why the 144,000 were special and what they were committed to that showed their passion for the Lamb. This is what verse 4 and 5 say: These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.
Verses 4 and 5 identify 5 characteristics of these super “committed” heroes: The first characteristic of these super “committed” heroes is that they are exemplary in their conduct. It describes the unsullied purity of those who are in the company of the Lamb. But what does that purity consist of? Again, this verse is not easy to interpret and commentators are split. Are we to assume that these are all men because they “were not defiled with women”? Or are we to assume that they are all women because they “are virgins”? It is probable that neither assumption is absolutely correct. They are probably made up of both men and women who are super humanly committed to the Lamb when it came to their physical and spiritual purity. When John says, “These are the ones who have not been defiled with women,” he is providing an illustration of God’s ability to keep believers remarkably pure in the midst of great difficulty and to be able to resist all temptations to immorality that will be rampant during the end times. These people will be marked by lofty standards of separation from the world and by spiritual sanctity. During the Great Tribulation there will be an exaggerated emphasis upon sex, and obviously immorality will prevail. These witnesses have separated themselves absolutely, in a practical, purposeful way from the worldly religious system of the beast. The religion of the beast, in common with so many pagan religions, will have at its base a vile immorality which will openly pander to every lust of the human heart. With the man of sin enthroned, lust will be applauded. It will be considered an act of worship as it was by the ancient Canaanites and in fertility cults ever since. This company sets itself apart from all that.
They will also have resisted the perverse system of Antichrist. In the Old Testament idolatry was classified as spiritual fornication. In Ezekiel 16 we find God’s severe indictment against Israel for fornication and adultery—which was idolatry. The 144,000 will have kept themselves from the worship of the beast and his image during the Great Tribulation. Therefore, the comment, “These are the ones who have not been defiled with women; for they are virgins,” can also be referring to purity in both the literal and the spiritual sense. The 144,000 will have kept themselves clean from all the sins of the Great Tribulation. The abnormal times will demand an abnormally committed state. The 144,000 will be super “committed” heroes who will be ordinary human beings like you and me that God will use to accomplish His extraordinary purposes on earth.
Here is what Mounce says about the 144,000. The 144,000 are pictured here as the promised bride of Christ who, as they await the day of marriage, have kept themselves pure from all defiling relationships with the pagan world system. They have resisted the seductions of the great harlot Rome with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication.
Spiritual purity is not popular today, but God requires it of His followers. To remain spiritually pure means resisting the seductions and idolatries of the present world—power, wealth and sexual immorality. To do so requires daily application of God’s Word, for it has a purifying effect on the mind and heart. It requires great resolution not to give in to these temptations. We must stand strong and not give in. Which brings us to our second next step this morning which may be for you. My next step is to remain spiritually pure by reading and applying God’s word to my life daily.
The second characteristic of these super “committed” heroes is that they were devoted to Jesus. Perhaps the best meaning of this first sentence is explained by the sentence which follows: “They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” This indicates that they had exclusively followed Christ, his instructions and His example. Absolute, super human commitment to Christ is the driving force behind their godly lives on earth. Like Caleb, their testimony is that they wholly follow the Lord. They allow no rivals, no refusals, and no restraint to mar their dedication to Him. Mark 8:34-35 says this, “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” That is the commitment we as Christians today need to have. God wants to use ordinary human beings like you and me to accomplish His extraordinary purposes on earth. The 144,000’s reward for such conduct while on earth and for all who believe in and follow Jesus Christ will be to accompany Him and be His constant companion in heaven.
The third characteristic of these super “committed” heroes is that they are exemplary in their calling. John says, they were “purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.” “Purchased from among men” means that Christ had bought them with His blood. The price of our sin was paid on the cross—it is a free gift for believers. It also speaks of the 144,000 being a sacrificial offering to God.
The term “first fruits” means “the very finest.” The idea of first fruits comes from Israel who kept an annual feast of first fruits. Each year the farmer went into his fields of ripening grain and cut out one sheaf. This sheaf was then presented to God as an act of worship, indicating that the worshipper understood that all things belonged to God. The first fruits were to be “the very finest” and a representation of the whole harvest. On the Feast of First fruits, the priest waved the sheaf before the Lord as a sign that the entire harvest belonged to Him (Leviticus 23:9-11). This is the same idea behind tithing. In giving our tithe, as our first fruits of our income etc., it shows that we understand that everything we have comes from God and belongs to God. The 144,000 make up the first fruits of those who throughout the tribulation will make a super human commitment to the Lamb, and who will stand victorious on Mount Zion with the Lamb. Wiersbe says that the 144,000 as first fruits may make up the nucleus of the coming Kingdom.
In verse 5 we see the final two characteristics of these super “committed” heroes. The fourth characteristic is their righteousness. When the text states that no lie is found in their mouths, it means that because their hearts are righteous, their words and actions are righteous as well. To say a person speaks no lie is the same as saying that his or her heart is governed by truth. The tribulation period in which they live is one when deceit and falsehood reigns. The Antichrist will come in the power of Satan with “lying wonders”. The 144,000 will not be deceived by the Beasts lies and will not participate in the big lie of the Beast when he uses lying wonders. Unlike the pagan world that “exchanged the truth of God for a lie”, they make no compromise with the heretical claims of the Antichrist. They refuse to sing the praises of the beast. When preaching the gospel, they will not conceal from their hearers that faith in Christ will be followed by swift retribution from the beast. Others are mouthing the slogans of the beast, chanting the vile creeds of his new world cult, and hailing him as the revealer of secrets, the savior of mankind, but these victorious believers refuse to pay lip service to him. They tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth regardless of the cost.
The final characteristic of these super “committed” heroes is that they are blameless; which shows their character. They were blameless because of their faith in Christ. This means that lived their lives beyond reproach. To be righteous is to have a heart that is pure before God, and to be blameless means that your life is pure before the world. The word implies they are without blemish just as the Old Testament sacrifices were without blemish. Animals offered on Jewish altars were scrutinized to make sure that they were perfect. The idea here is that as others view their lives, there is no blemish that would distract from their purpose of pointing people to Jesus. In other words, their conduct is consistent with their allegiance to Jesus. Here, then, is a company of God’s people who are saved, sealed, separated, sanctified (not sinless), and spotless! They have been cleansed and changed by grace -- just as we also have been, if we know the Lord. If we really want to be used by God, then we must live our lives with purity so that they do not provide any kind of blemish that would distract others from Jesus.
That’s what God does for those He redeems! That’s what God does for those who trust Christ as their Savior. He takes ruined lives and turns them into trophies of His grace. When we trust Christ as our Savior, He makes us special in His sight; He gives us a new song to sing; and He causes us to stand with Jesus victorious in glory. If we want it, he will give us commitment that is super human so we can follow him through the tribulations of this life. God can and will use ordinary human beings like you and me to accomplish His extraordinary purposes on earth.
And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
Every burning star A signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I
If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I
But this song goes on and toward the end it says:
God of salvation
You chased down my heart
Through all of my failure and pride
On a hill You created
The light of the world
Abandoned in darkness to die
Did you catch that? God created the hill that we crucified him on and yet he still created us and loves us and wants a relationship with us.
I will never forget one Wednesday a couple of years ago one of the youth was telling me about their worship experience at Rhodes Grove and how awesome it was and how they worshipped with their hands raised, etc. and they wondered why it never seemed to happen here on a Sunday morning. I had to stop and think about it because I certainly don’t worship like that here in this public place like I do in private. Why is that? Maybe it’s the fear of standing out and being different. But I want to challenge us this morning during this last song in this place right now to worship the Lamb of God the way we would if we weren’t worried about what the person beside was doing, or without the fear of being different or standing out. Maybe that’s with your hands raised, maybe that is on our knees, the altar is always open for you, maybe when you are alone you shout Amen or sing at the top of your lungs or maybe it is standing right where you’re at. God is giving you permission to express yourself in worship to him.
And while I hope you take me up on my challenge this morning, I also want to challenge you to do so in the future as well, so our last next step this morning is this, to:
find the courage to worship Jesus in public the same way I find myself worshipping Him when I am alone.
Worship is not all about the posture of your body in worship but it is all about the posture of your heart. So, with our final song this morning, let’s worship the Lamb of God who alone is worthy of our worship.
IT’S NOT ABOUT A RELIGION
Let’s pray: Dear Jesus, give us ears to hear what your Holy Spirit wants us to hear this morning. May your words be heard and hidden in our hearts and may we have the courage to share them with the world that we come in contact with every day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Have you ever thought about the word religion or ever have someone ask you if you were religious? I have personally never cared for the word religion when it comes to my faith. It’s always seemed like something was missing. It didn’t truly encompass the entirety of my faith and what I believe. I have never liked the question because it seems like the person asking the question is giving the person asked an out. Are you religious? Sure, I go to church. I believe in God. I have never stolen anything or murdered anyone. The question are you religious seems to miss the point. It seems to be asked in order to not have to admit who it is we follow as Christians or to hide the fact that we may not be following the Christ we proclaim to be following.
On the website “All About Religion .org” it says that religion is a fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a group of people. Ever since the world began, man has demonstrated a natural inclination towards faith and the worship of anything he considered superior or difficult to understand. Religion consisted of trying to appease and get favors from the Supreme Being they feared. This resulted in performing rituals (some of them barbaric) and keeping traditions or laws to earn goodness and/or everlasting life.
When we look at what the major world religions believe there are two things that stand out that are very much different than what we as Christians believe. One, of course is that they do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God and two, they believe in a god that is impersonal and unknowable. A god who created the world and everything in it and has left us to our own devices. A god that doesn’t care about us and would never want to know us.
Interestingly enough but maybe not surprising is that Montifiore, the great Jewish scholar, said that the one thing which no Jewish prophet and no Jewish Rabbi ever conceived of is the conception of God actually going out in quest of sinful men, who were not seeking him, but who were turned away from him. They believed that God would be there when man turned to him but never envisioned a God who would pursue them.
We as Christians know that God is a knowable, personal God who wants to have a personal relationship with us and actually pursues us to have it.
Jesus talked about religion in Matthew 23. In Matthew 23 Jesus was addressing the religious leaders in Israel and he had some very serious condemnations to say about them. Jesus said the following things about the Pharisees:
He said, they are teachers of the law so obey them but do not do as they do because they say one thing and do something else, they are hypocrites. He also said, they pile burdens onto the people and do nothing to help them. Everything they do is to show off to others. They put themselves above others instead of serving others. They keep people from going into the kingdom of heaven by teaching false things. They made sure they paid their tithe for all to see but they neglected the more important matters of the Law, such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Finally, he said they were like whitewashed tombs. On the outside they are beautiful, but inside they are full of bones and filth. Outside they looked good, but inside they were evil and only pretended to be good.
Sounds like some of the same things that people say about Christians and the church today? They say we are hypocritical, judgmental, condescending, two-faced and the church is all about the money.
The authors of unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters (Baker) claim that "Christianity has an image problem," In interviews with hundreds of 16- to 29-year-olds, coauthors Gabe Lyons and Barna Group president David Kinnaman discovered that nearly half of unchurched young Americans hold a bad impression of evangelical believers. They are especially bothered by, among other things, evangelicals' conservative political activism, hypocrisy, anti-homosexuality, and judgmentalism.
Another thing that Carey Nieuwhof says that hurts Christians today in the eyes of the world is that relatively few Christians actively pursue meaningful friendships with people who don’t share their faith. Between churches that offer programs 5 nights a week (leaving little time for Christians to make friends outside the church) and Christians who are afraid of the world, many Christians don’t pursue authentic relationships with non-Christians. Isn’t that a shame. God through Jesus has pursued us while we were yet sinners and even died on a cross for us and I think if we truly evaluated our own lives even this morning and counted how many non-Christian friends we really have and are investing in we might find ourselves lacking in that department. I know I do.
Mahatma Ghandi famously (and sadly) said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Maybe this was what Jesus was saying in Matthew 23. The Pharisees knew the scriptures, they knew the 10 commandments, they thought they knew what God was like, but Jesus was maybe saying, “I love your God, but I am not so sure about his followers. You Pharisees are so unlike my God, my heavenly Father, who sent me and I think at times he would say the same about us.
I believe Jesus was saying the same things about the seven churches in Revelation. To the church in Ephesus the Risen Christ said, “I know your works, your toil, your steadfast endurance, you have put false apostles to the test, but you have lost your first love. They had worked so hard on orthodoxy, making sure that the beliefs and rituals of being a Christian were followed that they lost love for each other. They used to be a band of brothers in fellowship together, but that orthodoxy had been achieved at the price of fellowship. It was all about a religion for them.
To the Church in Pergamum, the Risen Christ said that there were people within the church who hold to false teachings, teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. These were people within the church who said it was ok to conform to the world’s standards and to compromise with the practices and the morals of the world. When the church does that it is no different than the world. Romans 12: 2 says, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. We as Christ followers are called to be set apart from the world in which we live. The church is to be look different than the world and when it doesn’t it’s no more than a religion.
Thyatira had much the same problem as Pergamum. There was a woman named Jezebel who taught compromise within the church. It may have been that the teaching of Jezebel was that the Christians did not need to be so exclusive in their worship of Jesus Christ. She would argue that there was no harm at all in conforming to the outward rituals and ceremonies of heathen worship. It may even help to convert the heathen to Christianity more easily. A person who walked into this church would be impressed with its abounding energy and generous liberality. It would be crowded, because its people come to it to be entertained instead of instructed, and to be soothed instead of challenged and confronted with the fact of sin and the offer of salvation. This is a picture of a highly successful Christian club rather than a real Christian congregation. More about a religion than about the Risen Christ.
To the church in Sardis, the Risen Christ says “Thou art dead.” This may have been an indication that ritual and ceremony often crowded out the true life underneath. The church at Sardis was untroubled by heresy or outside persecution. It had become a lazy church. It was so ineffective that it had ceased to matter in the life of the community. It had no witness for Christ, it was mere religion.
Which brings us to the final church that John wrote to. The church we are going to talk about this morning is the church of Laodicea. The Risen Christ calls it “lukewarm”. This church was indifferent. It had all kinds of organizations, programs, committees, activities but it had no power, no power of the Holy Spirit. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul tells us, But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. In the Church of Laodicea there was no transformation of souls from darkness to life. They were more interested in social action than Gospel action, more interested in reformation than transformation, more interested in planning than praying. This church had gotten so far away from what the Lord founded it to be that it was nauseating to God and literally made Him sick.
The church of Laodicea had lost their dependence on Christ. It had become self-dependent and self-sufficient to the point that it had no need for the Holy Spirit. It was trying to be the church in its own power.
But this church had also lost its passion for the things of the Lord. They had reached a place where they were going through the motions and were unmoved by the things of the Lord. And when we try to do church without Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit it is only a religion.
Is this not the condition of the modern church? People going through the motions with no burning passion for the things of the Lord!
I think we need to examine ourselves (myself included) and our church. Are we apathetic or indifferent to the things of God? We may not be exactly dead because we are praying, preaching, singing, etc. But, are we on fire? Are we excited and passionate about, what we hear, and what we are doing and who we serve? Do we just come to church, take our seats and fold our arms? Do we ever feel the need to go to the altar to pray? To testify about what Jesus has done for us? Do we ever feel the need to do anything but come and go?
This morning through this letter to the Church in Laodicea the Risen Christ wants us to know that it is not about a religion, it’s about a relationship with himself. That is our BIG IDEA this morning. It is all about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That is what all those world religions have missed. They feel that God is impersonal, unknowable and would never want a relationship with his creation, but as Christ followers we know better. We know that Jesus pursues us with an everlasting love and wants a personal relationship with every single one of us.
Before we read our scripture this morning, I want to give you some background information on Laodicea. It was founded about 250 BC by Antiochus of Syria and is named after his wife, Laodice. It was only important because of its position. It was a hub out of which all the important roads leading out of it acted like spokes in a wheel. These roads that ran right through Laodicea were important destinations in the known world. Because of that it was one of the greatest commercial and strategic centers of the ancient world.
It set high up on a hill and at one point it was a fortress but it had one fatal flaw. All its water supply had to come by an underground aqueduct from springs no less than 6 miles away. This would be a perilous situation if they were ever besieged. Laodicea was also the last stop on the route that began in Ephesus as you see on the map above.
Laodicea had certain characteristics which have left their mark on the letter written to it. First, it was a great banking and financial center. It was so wealthy and independent that in 61 AD when it was devastated by an earthquake the city refused any help to rebuild from the Roman government. They rebuilt the city entirely from their own resources and in their own efforts. They had gained so much wealth and were so rich they had need of nothing.
It was also a great center of clothing manufacturing. The sheep that grazed around Laodicea was famous for their soft, violet-black, glossy wool. It mass produced cheap outer garments from it.
It was also a great medical center. There was a medical school there that was famous for two things throughout the world, an ointment for ear problems and an ointment for eye problems.
The words of the Risen Christ to the Church at Laodicea arise directly from the prosperity and skill in which they had so much pride and which in the minds of its citizens, and even in its church, eliminated the need for God.
Let’s look at the Risen Christ’s words to this church in Revelation 3:14-22:
The Risen Christ, just as in all the letters before it, identifies himself by using characteristics of himself. You can follow along as I read from Revelation 3. I will start with verse 14. This is what God’s word says: “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.
The Risen Christ identifies himself to the church of Laodicea as the Amen, the faithful and true witness and the ruler of God’s creation. First, the Risen Christ is characterized by his dependability. Identifying himself this way recognizes that Jesus was reliable, true and trustworthy. When Jesus said he was the Amen he was affirming he was the answer to all the promises of God. As the Amen, Jesus was also the faithful and true witness. This description stands in stark contrast to the Laodicean church. Jesus is reliable, they are not. Jesus is faithful, they are not. Jesus was the true witness, but they had no real witness at all.
Second, Jesus said he is the ruler of God’s creation which means Jesus is the originator of God’s creation. In John 1:1-3 it says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
And in Colossians 1:15-18 it says, The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
Both these scriptures affirm Christ as the chief, the ruler and the originator of both creation and the church. He is Lord over both the material and spiritual realms. He is first in time and position. We can trust what Jesus says and we can trust what Jesus starts.
In verses 15-17, the Risen Christ gives his condemnation of Laodicea which harkens back to the characteristics that Laodicea was so proud of in themselves. Follow along as I read those verses.
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
The Risen Christ says he knows their works. He knows what they are doing. He knows their spiritual condition. He said they are neither hot, meaning zealous or on fire for him nor are they cold, meaning lifeless. Instead they are lukewarm or indifferent and because of that he will spit them out of his mouth.
We can interpret this statement against the geographical background of Laodicea. In nearby Hierapolis, there bubbled up hot, medicinal waters like a spa. If you have ever been in a steam room or hot tub you know that the hot steam or water can soothe tired achy muscles. Then in nearby Colossae, cold, pure refreshing waters flowed. But if you remember we said earlier that their water supply for Laodicea came from 6 miles away. The water in Laodicea was barely drinkable and volcanic activity in the area left sulphuric deposits in the water, so it was not only unpleasant temperature wise, but it was even horrid smelling and almost toxic. This water had the effect of making the people sick and want to throw up. The water and the people of the church in Laodicea had a kind of nauseating quality that made the Risen Christ want to vomit them out of his mouth.
Jesus wants His church to be a place where people can relax and find healing, like a trip to a hot spring. He wants His church to be a place where people can be refreshed by His worship and His presence.
The Risen Christ was condemning their attitude of indifference and neutrality. He was saying with that attitude you are useless to me and even offensive. Indifference is the hardest thing to combat. Have you ever tried to persuade someone about something that they could care less one way or the other about? It’s not easy. If you feel strongly about something, it is possible to persuade someone who feels just as strongly the other way but it can be impossible to persuade someone if they just don’t care at all about what you are talking about.
To many people, Christianity and the Church have ceased to be relevant to them and they have become indifferent to it. Also, Christians have become indifferent and complacent in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world. If we as Christians and in the church are indifferent in sharing the gospel how can we expect non-Christians to care about receiving it. To be neutral about our faith is to be an obstacle to Jesus. He works through us to pursue, grow and multiply disciples, to accomplish the Great Commission and that cannot be done if we are indifferent about our faith and what we believe.
The Risen Christ goes on to condemn them because they were saying they are rich, they have become wealthy and in need of nothing. Like their city, the church boasted about who they were and what they had. They claimed to have reached this lofty spiritual status on their own. They had gotten where they were without the assistance of anyone. They needed nothing and no one including the Lord.
The Risen Christ is saying, “Let me set the record straight.” Five marks of their true spiritual status are noted. They are wretched meaning miserable and unfortunate and because of that they are pitiful. They are poor meaning destitute and reduced to begging. There are in extreme poverty, spiritually. This was a slap at a city that bragged of its wealth, commerce and banking industry. And they are blind which of course slapped at their pride on having the cure for eye problems that their medical school had produced for the world.
Lastly, the Risen Christ said they were naked, which ridiculed a city that boasted of it famous glossy black wool. They were clothed with religion not clothed by faith with the garments of Jesus’ righteousness. This imagery and illustration would have hit them right between their eyes and where they lived. The Risen Christ exposed their spiritual destitution, deception and desperate condition. Jesus had judged the Laodiceans. Now they knew who they really are. They can no longer plead ignorance. Action is now called for.
We also need to look at our own lives and make sure we are not wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked spiritually either. We can fall into the same traps today and the Risen Christ is speaking to us this morning and asking us to examine our church and our lives so as to not fall into the same deception the Church at Laodicea did.
In verse 18, we see the counsel of the Risen Christ to the Church of Laodicea. Verse 18 says, 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
There is a sustained irony that confronts the arrogant attitude and smug satisfaction of the Laodicean Christian. The Risen Christ counsels them to make specific purchases from himself in precisely those areas where they are so certain they have no need. Jesus sternly instructs them to buy from HIM gold refined in the fire so that they may be rich. Only from Christ can true and lasting riches be purchased. The currency to buy that which will last is always the same. It is faith, trust, and radical dependence on Christ and Christ alone. The cure for spiritual poverty is first faith for salvation followed by faith for sanctification. We need the spiritual wealth that comes only by constant and abiding faith in Jesus. In John 15:4-5, it says, Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. Such wealth, unlike earthly riches, will endure forever. Day by day we need to renew our faith in the Risen Christ for everything we need.
Next the Risen Christ tells the church they need “white clothes so that they will be dressed and their shameful nakedness not be exposed.” White clothes symbolizes the righteousness of the Savior. The Laodicean Christians were walking around spiritually naked, completely unaware of their humiliation and their need for the pure white righteousness of Jesus. He invites them to adorn themselves in spiritual garments that is available only by calling upon the name of Jesus for salvation.
They are naked and lost in their sins. If they will come to Him, He will cloth them in robes of righteousness and they will no longer be naked and exposed in the sight of God. Nakedness in the ancient world was a sign of judgement and humiliation. To receive fine clothing was a symbol of honor and acceptance. Before Jesus we are all stripped naked and exposed for who we really are. We dare not stand in the filthy rags of our own righteousness and good deeds. We need Christ’s righteousness.
The Risen Christ tells them to buy ointment or salve to spread on their own eyes so they could see. They were famous for their own eye ointment but ironically the church was blind to its own spiritual condition. Such healing comes from looking to Christ and into his word for instruction and wisdom. 2 Timothy 3:16-17, says, All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. We need Christ’s remedy that comes from knowing and obeying the Word of God.
We need to honestly evaluate our own spiritual conditions daily and regularly. Spiritual compromise and complacency are “spiritual cataracts” that shut out the light of spiritual sight. We need to ask God to reveal our spiritual blind spots and the areas of sin in our lives that we can no longer see.
In verse 19 we see that all is not lost for this church in Laodicea. This is what God’s word says, 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Here we see the encouraging part of Christ’s discipline. He says that he loves the Laodicean Christian even if they have fallen away from him. Their sin does not quench his love for them just as our sin does not quench his love for us. Jesus says he corrects and disciplines those he loves. Discipline that educates and brings about repentance and change is what the Risen Christ offers the church at Laodicea. If they reject his discipline he will spit them out of his mouth but if they accept it he will come in and stay with them. Turning from our sin once is not enough. It must be a daily practice and habit in our lives. A community of daily repenting sinners characterizes healthy churches and healthy Christians.
So, we started off talking about religion. I believe that all the churches including the one at Laodicea were just playing church. They were being religious. They were no better than the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. They were probably hypocritical, judgmental, condescending, two-faced and all about the money.
But in verse 20, we see the remedy for religion. God’s word says, 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
We see that it is all about a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus says Listen! Which means to look, to see, take note and to wake up. He says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” Jesus has taken up a position outside the door of the church and will remain there knocking and patiently waiting. If anyone, if just one hears my voice and opens the door I will come in to him and have dinner with him and he with me. What an amazing promise. Revival starts with one. It can start with me. It can start with you. Here we see the offer of Christ that he will always come in if we invite him.
John here uses the Greek word for dinner or the evening meal. The Greeks had three meals in a day, breakfast which was no more than a piece of dried bread dipped in wine. Lunch, the midday meal which was simply a picnic snack eaten by the side of the road or in the city square. You didn’t go home for it. Then there was dinner, the evening meal. It was the main meal of the day. You would linger at this meal and talk about the day you had after your work was done. This was a time of unhurried, intimate fellowship together. This is what Christ would share with the person who answered his knock. This is what a personal relationship with Jesus Christ would look like. This is what the Risen Christ wanted with the Laodicean Church and what he wants for us here at Idaville and for all of us individually as well. If you open the door, Jesus Christ will come in and linger long with you. He wants a personal, intimate relationship with you.
But there is also a human responsibility. I love this picture. It is probably one of two of my favorite pictures of Christ. You are probably familiar with this picture of Christ standing at the door of your heart knocking and wanting to come in and have a personal relationship with you. But you know what? He will not force himself in, he cannot force himself in. You notice there is no handle on the door outside your heart. Only you can let him in to your heart. Only you can ask Christ into your heart and start that personal relationship with him that he so much wants with you. It is the reason we were created. We were created to be in relationship with him not to just practice a religion or to be religious.
Maybe this morning you are ready to let Jesus into your heart. Romans 3:23 says for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all are in need of a savior because as Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. Death is a separation from God and is not what we were created for. God’s Words says that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. In Romans 10:9, it says that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Maybe that is right where you are at this morning. Maybe you are ready to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior and let him into your heart this morning. If so, on the back of your communication card that second next step is for you.
I hear Jesus knocking on the door to my heart and I want to let him in and be saved.
Maybe you here this morning and have already asked Jesus into your heart but confess that you have just been religious and have been playing church. You are ready this morning to start a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus. If so on the back of your communication card that last next step is for you.
I want to stop being religious and stop playing church and start a personal relationship with Jesus.
If you marked either of those next steps, please put your name on the front so Pastor Stuart and I can talk with you. We want to celebrate those decisions with you and help you on the road of discipleship.
Next, in verse 21, we see the promise of the Risen Christ.21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.
The promise of the Risen Christ to the victor is that they will sit with Christ on his victorious throne and rule and reign with Christ in his coming kingdom. In the eastern world the throne was more like a couch than a single chair. Imagine one day we will sit with Christ on his victorious couch and rule the nations with him. Heaven will be like the grandest living room/throne room.
Finally, every letter finishes with the same words. This what verse s 22 says, 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This phrase individualizes the messages of the letters. It says to whoever hears these words, “This means YOU.” If you have been here at Idaville and have heard Pastor Stuart speak on the previous six churches that means the Risen Christ has been speaking to you. There are now no excuses for us. We know and understand that the Risen Christ is calling us out of a religion, out of being religious and into a personal relationship with himself. I have been moved by these seven letters. Every time I have heard Pastor Stuart preach these letters I have noticed where I have fallen short. If you have heard these sermons and don’t believe that they are for Idaville church in this place and in this time then you don’t have ears to hear. I pray that we all have the ears to hear not only the commendations of the seven churches but also the condemnations to the seven churches. If we at Idaville Church can have ears to hear then this body of believers and our lampstand will never disappear.
As Gene and Roxie come to lead us in a final song and the ushers prepare to pick up the communication cards please bow your heads with me.
Dear Heavenly Father, again let us have ears to hear what your Spirit is saying to us. Let us leave this place encouraged by these letters to the seven churches. Help us to share the gospel of Jesus with those we come in contact with and not be ashamed of the gospel as it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes. Take us from this place in your strength and protection in Jesus’ name, Amen.