If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to the Gospel of John, chapter 5, verses 1 through 47. John says:
After this, a Jewish festival took place, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five colonnades. 3 Within these lay a large number of the sick—blind, lame, and paralyzed [—waiting for the moving of the water, 4 because an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had].
5 One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?”
7 “Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.”
8 “Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your mat and walk!” 9 Instantly the man got well, picked up his mat, and started to walk.
Now that day was the Sabbath, 10 so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “This is the Sabbath! It’s illegal for you to pick up your mat.”
11 He replied, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”
12 “Who is this man who told you, ‘Pick up your mat and walk’?” they asked. 13 But the man who was cured did not know who it was, because Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
14 After this, Jesus found him in the temple complex and said to him, “See, you are well. Do not sin anymore, so that something worse doesn’t happen to you.” 15 The man went and reported to the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
16 Therefore, the Jews began persecuting Jesus because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus responded to them, “My Father is still working, and I am working also.” 18 This is why the Jews began trying all the more to kill Him: Not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
19 Then Jesus replied, “I assure you: The Son is not able to do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does these things in the same way. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He is doing, and He will show Him greater works than these so that you will be amazed. 21 And just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son also gives life to anyone He wants to.22 The Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all people will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
24 “I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.
25 “I assure you: An hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.26 For just as the Father has life in Himself, so also He has granted to the Son to have life in Himself. 27 And He has granted Him the right to pass judgment, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come out—those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of judgment.
30 “I can do nothing on My own. I judge only as I hear, and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
31 “If I testify about Myself, My testimony is not valid. 32 There is Another who testifies about Me, and I know that the testimony He gives about Me is valid. 33 You have sent messengers to John, and he has testified to the truth. 34 I don’t receive man’s testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 John was a burning and shining lamp, and for a time you were willing to enjoy his light.
36 “But I have a greater testimony than John’s because of the works that the Father has given Me to accomplish. These very works I am doing testify about Me that the Father has sent Me. 37 The Father who sent Me has Himself testified about Me. You have not heard His voice at any time, and you haven’t seen His form. 38 You don’t have His word living in you, because you don’t believe the One He sent.39 You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me. 40 And you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life.
41 “I do not accept glory from men, 42 but I know you—that you have no love for God within you. 43 I have come in My Father’s name, yet you don’t accept Me. If someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe? While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God.45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me. 47 But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
This is the word of the Lord.
As you probably noticed while Elyse was reading out our passage just a moment ago, there is a lot of stuff in today’s passage. Last week was pretty straightforward and there were like 9 versus. This week there are 47.
And it’s not 47 verses that all kind of say the same thing, like the first sermon out of John chapter 4 a few weeks back. It’s 47 verses that just compound each other and further complicate the story that John is telling us. And so in order to trek through this passage we’re going to jump around quite a bit, to try and find the simplest possible way to explain what John is getting at here. But because we’re going to jump around so much, it is entirely possible that you’ll get a little bit of whiplash, so I ask you to bear with me.
I think the best place to start as we examine our passage this morning is in verses 19 and 20. Take a look at verses 19 and 20. As we look at these verses here in the middle of the passage, what’s going to come to the forefront is the fact that the work of Jesus reveals the will of the Father. I’m going to say that again. The work of Jesus reveals the will of the Father. He says:
“I assure you: The Son is not able to do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does these things in the same way.20 For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He is doing, and He will show Him greater works than these so that you will be amazed.”
That’s our first point. The work of Jesus reveals the will of the Father. That is unbelievably important. That might be the most important thing I tell you today, and it might be the most important thing I have told you so far in the year of our Lord 2020.
This is, I think, a very good corrective to one of the common misconceptions that people labor under. And that very common misconception that people labor under is the idea that Jesus is different than his Father. You know what I’m talking about? A lot of people think that Jesus is fundamentally different than his Father in heaven.
Now, obviously, we believe in something called “The Trinity.” That means that we believe in one God who is three persons. I do not know how that works. All I know is that the Bible portrays God as Father, Son, and Spirit. These are not three parts of God. These are not three forms that God takes at different times. These are three persons that are all one God. As Christians, when we talk about God, we mean Father, Son, and Spirit.
So it’s absolutely correct to point out that Jesus is not his Father. But there’s a very different error that John is warning us against Today. Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times that I have gone to a church and sat through a sermon or a Sunday school lesson or a Bible study where the central message seems to be that the Father is a hardliner who never wants you to have any fun and cannot stand the idea that you might be happy, but that Jesus is cool. You know what I’m talking about?
The way that some people talk, they make it sound like God the Father spends his whole day watching angrily from heaven, ticking off boxes every time you make a mistake, but Jesus spends most of his day getting high and eating potato chips, or something like that. But nothing on planet earth could be further from the truth.
What the Bible actually tells us is that Jesus does absolutely nothing during his earthly ministry that he doesn’t see his Father doing. Everything we see Jesus doing during his earthly ministry in the gospels, Jesus does because his Father guided him to. The work of Jesus reveals the will of the Father.
That means that if you want to know what God the Father is like, look at Jesus. If you wanna know what the God of the Bible is like, look at Jesus. Jesus is what God is like. To be painfully specific, Jesus is what God has always been like.
He is the God that led Abraham out into the wilderness; the God that taught Moses on the Mountaintop; the God that promised King David that he would make his family line last forever. Jesus is that God, and it is very important to grasp this if you want to understand the Bible.
Run fast, and run far from anybody who tries to tell you that God the Father is mean and boring and joyless but that Jesus is nicer than God and cooler than God and more compassionate than God because that’s just not true. Because what we learn throughout the gospels is that the work of Jesus reveals the will of the Father, so as we watch Jesus ministering on earth throughout the book of John, the will of the Father becomes exceedingly clear.
But what is the “will of the Father”?
John takes kind of a roundabout path in the process of explaining it, but he makes it clear enough, beginning in verse 26: Jesus says, “For just as the Father has life in Himself, so also He has granted to the Son to have life in Himself.” And if you look back, 2 verses earlier, at verse 24, Jesus tells us why that’s significant: He says, “Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.”
What is the “will of the Father”? The will of the father is for you to “pass from death to life,” and we know that because he has made a way for that to happen through the Son. That’s really the big idea at the center of this passage: Christ has life in himself, and today he offers that life to you.
But that means that there’s a very important question you need to ask yourself, and that question is, “Do I actually want it?” Christ is very much calling us to answer the question for ourselves, “Do I actually want the life that Jesus offers to me?” Don’t answer it too quickly.
We see something similar playing out in verses 5-7. John says:
“One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.”
Pay attention to the question Jesus asks, here: “Do you want to be well?” That’s a really strange thing to ask a guy who’s been crippled for almost four decades. He’s laying on his mat, looking kinda longfully at the pool, and Jesus stops in his tracks, looks down at him, and asks, “Do you want to get well?” On the surface, the answer is obviously “Yes,” right?
If you can barely walk, and you have an opportunity to start walking freely, that’s almost like winning the lottery. A whole universe of opportunities suddenly becomes available to you that were not available 5 minutes ago. So on the surface, the answer is obviously, “Yes. Of course I want to get well.” “Of course I want to be able to get up, leave this spot I’ve been stuck in, and go move about freely.”
Some of the folks in this room have been struggling with diminished mobility as you’ve gotten older. When you sit in a chair, it is harder to get out of the chair than it was 20 years ago, right?
I’m only 25, and when I tie my shoes, I have a harder time getting back up straight than I did just a couple of years ago.
But what this man is dealing with is even worse than the diminished mobility that comes with age. Our passage says that he is some kind of sick, and the kind of sick that he is means that he can barely move.
So every time this pool gets stirred up and starts healing people – whatever that’s all about – by the time he gets to the pool, crawling slowly across the ground, he’s too late. Somebody else with a sickness that doesn’t diminish their mobility beat him to it. Obviously he wants to be healed of that particular infirmity.
But Jesus is asking him infinitely more than just, “Do you want to be able to walk better?” He doesn’t say, “Do you want to be mobile?” He says, “Do you want to be well?”
It takes a whole lot more than mobility to be well, right?
A lot of people can walk around with absolutely no difficulty but they are not well. You know what I’m talking about? Maybe you are one of those people who can walk around as freely as you want, but if you really look deep down, you could not look me in the eye and say, “I am doing fine.”
If you feel like I’m talking directly to you, don’t feel bad, because probably just about everybody feels like I’m talking directly to them, because as we see throughout the Bible, we are not well. That’s just a fact. We are not all right.
We can talk ourselves into thinking we’re fine, but that’s a really tenuous charade, right? That is very much the reason that our culture is the way that it is. Have you ever noticed how much of our culture relies on racket? Have you ever noticed how much of our culture relies on noise?
That even carries over into, like, Christian radio. I don’t know about you, but half the time when I turn on certain Christian radio stations, I eventually have to shut it off because it’s almost nauseatingly upbeat. Part of the issue, obviously, is that I’m just a stick in the mud, but there’s something unbelievably disingenuous about the way that much of Christian radio – just like secular radio – is built around throwing out as many kitschy and insincere phrases as you possibly can; the DJ has to be the human embodiment of a hallmark card, right? In the background, there’s a really fast paced, upbeat music track playing, and everything everybody says is in a weird kind of singsong voice, and it always leaves me wondering, what planet are these people from?
And part of the goal, I think, is to throw everything they possibly can at the wall to cover up our anxiety, grief, fear, despair – all of it – to cover up our downcast-ness with noise.
They’re not unique in that respect. Our entire culture is built largely around covering up our downcast-ness with noise.
To just keep distracting ourselves from the fact that we are extremely not okay, because if you can keep occupying your mind with one upbeat thing after another, you never really have to deal with just how unwell you really are, just how anxious you really are, just how downcast you are.
That’s just one example.
I’m not picking on Christian radio, or any radio. They’re not doing something evil or sinister, they’re just doing what everybody else on planet earth is always doing, all the time, and that is covering up our Not Okay-ness with bells and whistles and racket.
Because if we’re honest, at the end of the day, what we want is not to be well, what we want is to be distracted.
We’re very much like those folks you hear about in the tabloids, who’ll accidentally cut their fingers off with a buzz saw, but who end up losing the fingers for good because instead of going to the hospital, we went back inside the house because we don’t wanna miss today’s episode of Maury Povitch, or something like that.
There is something in us that reaches for distractions rather than deliverance. There’s something in us that reaches for noise instead of healing. There is something in us that reaches for racket instead of redemption.
And so in the midst of those tendencies, Jesus shakes us back into consciousness by asking: “Do you want to get well?”
And it is not a rhetorical question. Do you actually want to get well?
According to the religious leaders from our passage today, the answer is “No.” Looking towards the end of our passage, they see that Jesus has healed this man by the pool, and instead of celebrating the mercy of God that had been clearly revealed through Jesus that day, they start accusing Jesus of having broken the law.
They point out that it’s the Sabbath, and nobody’s supposed to be working on the Sabbath, and that if healing a person’s lifelong sickness doesn’t count as work, nothing counts as work, right? And Jesus doesn’t really dignify their objection, his response essentially boils down to, “Please sit down, the adults are talking.”
Which is interesting. Because it’s not really like Jesus to be that dismissive when someone asks a sincere question or raises a sincere concern. But this was not a sincere question, and this was not a sincere concern. And we know that because Jesus dissects exactly what was underneath the objection of the religious leaders in verses 41-42, he says:
“I do not accept glory from men, 42 but I know you—that you have no love for God within you.” That’s a pretty cold-blooded thing to say to somebody, but if you look at verse 44, it makes a whole lot of sense. He says, “While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God.”
There’s a lot to unpack there, right? But the short version is that these religious leaders did not want to be well. The religious leaders were every bit as sick as everyone else on planet earth, but the last thing they had any interest in was getting well.
We just got done talking about how some folks don’t want to be well because they’d rather be distracted, and we’re about to see that some folks don’t want to be well because they’d rather be glorified.
That’s a really strange thing to say. These religious leaders didn’t want to get well, they wanted to be glorified. They didn’t want to be healed, they wanted to be lifted up. They didn’t want to be “given life through the Son,” they just wanted to be spoken highly of by the folks around them. They wanted to be praised by their culture. Does that sound familiar?
I don’t know about you, but I find that relatable. Because if I am entirely honest, there is something in me that doesn’t want to be healed of what ails me because I really like what ails me. There’s some sinful habits that I really do not want to be set free of.
Now, most of the time, that’s just because I find them enjoyable. There are some sinful patterns in my life that I don’t like the idea of letting go of because I find them enjoyable. But that’s not what Jesus is pointing at in verse 44. He says, “While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God.”
I have sinful tendencies that I don’t particularly want to get rid of because the culture around me applauds them. You know what I’m talking about?
As a case-in-point: At this particular point in time, our culture is obsessed with “asserting yourself.” Our culture is absolutely obsessed with “asserting yourself.” You know that because there’s hardly, like, a shampoo commercial that’s not built entirely around “self-assertion.” You see a picture of somebody scrubbing their hair, or something, and it’ll say, like, “Show the world who’s in charge.”
What does that mean?
Or, like, deodorant. You see a picture of somebody applying deodorant to their underarms, and it will say something like, “Don’t let anybody tell you what to do.” And it’s like, is this deodorant going to help me “not let people tell me what to do?”
That’s where we are as a culture. There’s nothing wrong with being assertive, right? Like we’ve said before, Christ never calls us to be everybody’s doormat – you have needs, and it’s important to meet them. But I’m not talking about that.
I’m talking about the way that our culture is absolutely obsessed with asserting yourself at all costs, throwing off any obligations you might have to other people, throwing off any semblance of what’s actually right or what’s actually wrong, and instead just demanding your own way, to the point that it’s literally how we sell mundane household items, and stuff. Because that’s what gets you glory in our day and age.
If you’ve been a human being on planet earth for any length of time, you’ve watched it play out: If you selfishly chase after your own interests, devote yourself exclusively to your own desires, steamroll anybody you’ve got to steamroll to get what you want whenever you want it, our culture “admires your resilience.” Our culture “admires your strength.” Our culture “admires your resolve,” it “admires your consistency.” It says, “At least that person never backs down,” “never compromises.” “At least that person speaks their mind.”
The result is that if you take your cues from Jesus – if you place others before yourself, if you seek the good of even your enemy, our culture calls you weak. It calls you stupid. If you’re a man, it calls you a beta male, and says “survival of the fittest” is coming for you.
If there’s any doubt about whether our culture idolizes sinful self-assertion, just think to yourself, “When the last time one of our country’s leaders was praised for acting cautiously?” “When is the last time one of our politicians received praise for trying to reach across the aisle and formulate a plan that everybody could at least potentially get on board with?” It’s been a while, right? I was in grade school. And part of that’s just because I’m, like, ridiculously young, but the other part is that our culture is obsessed with asserting yourself at all costs.
That is very much the way that our culture has evolved, and we see it on TV, and we see it in politics, and we see it on social media, and increasingly we see it spilling out into regular everyday life, and I am every bit as infected with that tendency towards shameless self-assertion as anybody else, because every time I selfishly assert myself, my culture applauds me. That’s how you get glory in our day and age.
That’s just one example how our culture is eager to applaud our sin. But that’s important because they say that “What gets applauded gets repeated.” Right? If you’re anything like me, you’re generally inclined to repeat whatever gets you applauded. And so, I don’t know about you, but I’ll find myself sleep-walking into asserting myself in a bad way, demanding my own way, instead of consciously seeking to serve the people around me, time after time after time after time because I like the glory that comes along with it. In my sin nature, I don’t want to be healed of my selfishness, I want the glory that comes with embracing it.
That’s very much like these religious leaders. “While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God.” They didn’t want to be well, they wanted to be glorified.
Maybe you can relate to at least one of these two things.
Maybe your internal monologue is bent toward distracting yourself rather than reaching out for the healing that Jesus offers, or maybe it’s bent towards chasing after glory rather than throwing yourself at the feet of Jesus to be healed, but in either case, the result is the same: You end up with something other than the life that Christ offers to you.
You either end up with cheap distractions or fake glory, and neither of those things will satisfy you in the long run. Because eventually the distractions wear thin, and the glory proves hollow, and when that happens you’re left with nothing. You’re left with less than nothing. You end up like the religious leaders, and when you look down all you’ve actually got in your hands is the bitterness that comes from watching your distractions and your glories dissolve into nothing.
And yet, Christ shows us a very different way. Instead of offering us a distraction from our downcast-ness, he shows us life. Instead of offering us glory, he offers us life, because as he says in verse 26, he “has life in himself,” and God’s abiding pleasure is to share that life with you and I.
And so, what Christ offers you is the thing you actually need, not just the stuff you think you want. The life that Christ offers to us is the thing your soul actually longs for.
We have arrived at the portion of the service that we usually refer to as the “Altar Call.” What that means is that I’ll be standing at the front as we respond to the Lord in worship through song.
If you’ve been trying to drown out your downcast-ness with distractions, we would love to pray with you about laying down your distractions and trading them for Jesus Christ.
If you’ve been chasing after glory, or applause, or approval instead of seeking out the life that Jesus offers to you, we would love to pray with you about lay those down and trade them for Jesus Christ.
If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to the Gospel of John, chapter 4, verses 43 through 54. John says:
After two days He left [Samaria] for Galilee. 44 Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. 45 When they entered Galilee, the Galileans welcomed Him because they had seen everything He did in Jerusalem during the festival. For they also had gone to the festival.
46 Then He went again to Cana of Galilee, where He had turned the water into wine. There was a certain Royal Official whose son was ill at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and pleaded with Him to come down and heal his son, for he was about to die.
48 Jesus told him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
49 “Sir,” the Official said to Him, “come down before my boy dies!”
50 “Go,” Jesus told him, “your son will live.” The man believed what Jesus said to him and departed.
51 While he was still going down, his slaves met him saying that his boy was alive. 52 He asked them at what time he got better. “Yesterday at seven in the morning the fever left him,” they answered. 53 The father realized this was the very hour at which Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” Then he himself believed, along with his whole household.
54 This, therefore, was the second sign Jesus performed after He came from Judea to Galilee.
This is the word of the Lord.
Today’s passage is strange in a number of ways. On the surface it seems pretty straightforwardly uplifting, right?
Looking at verses 46-47, John says:
“There was a certain Royal Official whose son was ill at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and pleaded with Him to come down and heal his son, for he was about to die.”
Skipping forward to verse 50, Jesus says, “Go, your son will live.” And the man believed what Jesus said to him and departed.” On his way home, he learned that his son miraculously got better at exactly the same hour that Jesus had told him that his son would live, and John says in verse 53, “Then he himself believed, along with his whole household.”
So it’s easy to see why this has landed in kind of the greatest hits reel, as far as Bible stories go. If that’s not a success story I don’t know what is. But as is often the case, Jesus can’t just do something miraculous and then leave it at that. Reading through the gospels, it almost seems like Jesus’s mission in life is to be a glorious buzzkill. As a result, most of the stories in the gospels are kinda like Thomas Kinkade paintings that somebody spray painted a skull and crossbones over, or something. Jesus will do something miraculous and heartwarming, and then follow it up by saying the most ruthless thing he could possibly follow it up with.
That’s exactly what we see happening in our passage today. Jesus heals the son of the Royal Official, but before healing him, he sticks a crowbar in the spokes of his bicycle wheel. John says in verse 48 that Jesus just lays into him, he says “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” That’s a pretty cold-hearted thing to say to somebody.
It’s always tempting to fly past something like this so we can get on to the stuff that will really preach, but instead I want to park the car right here and probe a little bit further. Why is Jesus lambasting this Royal Official for coming to him and asking him to heal his son’s terminal illness? Isn’t that what Jesus has been doing? Isn’t that part of the point of his ministry? Isn’t that part of what the Son of God came to earth to do. Why is he punishing this Royal Official for asking for it?
I think in order to answer that question, we have to have a solid understanding of what Jesus means when he talks about signs and wonders?
As it turns out, the Bible is full of “signs and wonders.”
As an obvious case-in-point: You might remember the story of Noah’s Ark from those early chapters in Genesis. Picking it up in Genesis chapter 9, we see that the flood has just subsided, and God brings Noah and his family out of the ark, and it says that God placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of the covenant that he was making with them. The rainbow was a sign that he would never again annihilate all the creatures of the world, like he did in the flood, but that instead he’d do the opposite.
The rainbow was a sign that God’s ultimate goal is not to destroy the world because of its badness, but to redeem it back into goodness. I’m gonna say that again: God’s ultimate goal is not to destroy the world because of its badness. God’s goal is to redeem the world back into goodness.
Fast-forwarding a little bit to Exodus chapter 10, we see that the Lord tells Moses, to “Go to Pharaoh,” because he’s going to perform “miraculous signs and wonders among them,” so that everyone will “know that I am Yahweh,” he says. The Lord performs signs and wonders in Egypt, not as a way of impressing the Egyptians or even as a way of scaring them into obeying, but as a way of declaring that he has come to redeem the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. God’s “signs and wonders” are not just a “Laser Light-Show.” They’re a taste of the redemption that is to come.
These are some of the things that would have been rattling around in the heads of just about anybody looking on at the ministry of Jesus from the outside.
That’s why in John chapter 3, Nicodemus, a man from the Pharisees, comes to Jesus at night and says, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs and wonders You do unless God were with him.” Nicodemus sees the signs and wonders that Jesus is performing, and it reminds him of the rainbow God sent after the flood. It reminds him of the Exodus.
When Nicodemus looks at Jesus, it rightly reminds him that God’s ultimate plan is not to “condemn the world” but to redeem it, like John 3:17 says. He’s reminded that like in the Exodus, God is here to liberate us from all of our slaveries.
So everybody knew that these signs and wonders meant something, in general, but it matters deeply what these signs and wonders mean in particular.
And it matters because some people take them in really, kinda, sketchy directions. There’s a rather frightening number of people in the United States who intentionally forego health care because they believe that the Bible teaches that God will always heal all of your diseases all the time if you have enough faith.
I don’t know how many closet metalheads we have at Mount Zion, but you might remember the Metallica song, The God That Failed. It’s about lead singer James Hetfield’s mom, who died of cancer in the year 1979 because she was a member of a group who believes that using secular medicine was sinful because it meant you lacked faith in God to heal you miraculously.
She had a very common type of cancer that is certainly devastating but is extremely treatable, but like thousands of people every single year, she refused potentially lifesaving treatment because her particular faith community had a well-intentioned but mistaken understanding of passages like this.
So we’ve got a really lighthearted sermon today.
It’s really easy to point at situations like Mrs. Hetfield, kind of scoff at the silliness of it and then move on, but there’s a really good chance that you believe almost the same thing as Mrs. Hetfield, but instead of applying it to your physical health, you apply it to your mental health.
My first semester of college, my psychology professor told a story about one of his students who arrived in his dorm on moving day, got to talking to his new roommate, and said, essentially, “I just want to let you know upfront, I have a condition called clinical depression. Sometimes it’s OK, sometimes it’s really bad, but I just want you to know upfront. I don’t want you to be surprised. If I go through kind of a weird phase, I don’t want you to think it’s your fault, I just wanted to give you a heads up so that you know what you’re looking at if I go through an episode.”
And the way that my psychology professor told the story, his roommate immediately said, “Well, if you’re going through depression, that means you’re not right with God. It means you don’t have enough faith. If your relationship with God is in a good place, your mental health will follow.”
Imagine somebody saying that about your broken arm: “Y’know, your arm is broken because your relationship with God is broken. Un-break your relationship with God, and your arm with fall back in place.”
And it sounds dumb when you put it that way, but I think a lot of folks really do believe something very similar. A lot of us assume that if our faith is strong enough, we’ll just always be OK all the time, but you’ve all lived long enough to know that’s not true, right? Your relationship with God can be absolutely wonderful and you can still die of cancer. You can be as right with God as you could possibly be and that absolutely will not stop your heart for giving out at a horrifyingly young age.
Exactly the same principle applies when it comes to mental health, not just physical health. Some of the godliest, wisest, most Christ-exalting people I have ever known go through lengthy periods where they can barely get out of bed, and it’s not because they’re lazy and it’s not because they are weak and it’s not because they are a stick in the mud, it’s because they have an often invisible struggle that they can’t just turn off.
So it’s important to clarify right here at the outset that you should not take passages like our passage today as an indication that you can always expect to be healed of your difficulties. You might be chronically sick the rest of your life, and there may be no physical or emotional healing coming during your lifetime.
And yet I want to make the argument that even if that is the case, there are still immeasurable riches to be found here, once we wrap our heads around what Jesus is showing us through the miraculous signs that he performs throughout the Gospel of John. Mount Zion, there is more joy and comfort to be drawn from this passage than I have the ability to grasp or articulate.
So that tells us a lot about what this passage isn’t saying. It tells us a lot about what these signs and wonders aren’t pointing us towards, but we still need to talk about what they are pointing us towards. Right?
So what are they pointing us towards?
If we were one of those old school Independent Baptist churches that did all day services with three hour sermons, we could dive in-depth into all of the specifics, but, uh, we are not one of those, so I’m gonna cut straight to the chase instead and point out that the “signs and wonders” we see Jesus performing – like “healing the sick,” and “raising the dead,” and “multiplying bread and fish” – point towards something we already know and believe: And that is that God will make and is making everything right through Jesus Christ. I’m gonna say that again: The “signs and wonders” we see Jesus performing point us towards the fact that God will make and is making everything right through Jesus Christ.
I’m gonna rephrase that one last time just to be sure we’re on the same page, here: The point of the healings that we see Jesus perform in today’s passage and countless other passages is not that Jesus is really strong and powerful and cool because he can he all your diseases, the point is that a day is coming when God decisively undoes the brokenness of the world, once and for all.
When Christ heals the son of the Royal Official, it’s kind of like a down payment. It’s like that very first yield at the beginning of the harvest season. Christ heals that little boy in our passage today, but one day he’s going to heal everything that’s broken and this is pointing us towards that. And even more importantly, it means that the process has already begun.
To come at it from yet another angle, the signs and wonders that Jesus performs throughout his ministry are pointing us towards the coming kingdom of God.
They point us towards a kingdom in which there is no sickness. They’ point us to a kingdom in which there is no poverty. They point us to a kingdom in which there is no death. In which nobody is outcast. Nobody is alone. Nobody is abandoned. In which every lost sheep is gathered back with the other 99, every downtrodden person is lifted back up, and every crooked thing is made straight.
To steal a quote from an old, dead British guy, the signs and wonders that we see Jesus performing are pointing us towards a kingdom in which “every sad thing has come untrue.” And even more importantly, it means that the process has already begun.
But here’s where record-scratch comes. Because throughout all of this, our Royal Official from today’s passage has been standing on the outside looking in at the ministry of Jesus but he’s never really taken a position, apparently. We know that because he’s still a Royal Official.
You can contrast him with Nicodemus, the man from the Pharisees, because Nicodemus eventually started following Jesus. The same thing is true about Joseph of Arimathea, another important leader in his community, because Joseph of Arimathea eventually stepped down from his position of prominence and started following Jesus, alongside all the poor fishermen and beggars.
But the Royal Official is very much a bystander. He’s clearly not opposed to Jesus of he wouldn’t be asking for his help, but he’s also not joining in the work of his ministry. He sees what’s happening and he gets it, but up until he experiences the power of Jesus for himself in today’s passage, it wouldn’t have been quite right to say that he believed.
And we know that because when you believe something, it shows. This is the dumbest example in the world, but bear with me. I grew up in a town of 4000 people in North Texas, kind of a rural exurb of Dallas, and my friends and I used to play this game where you would dare somebody to grab the electric fence. We were 7. That was our idea of a good time. So you would dare somebody to grab the fence, and if they were afraid to do it, you’d double dog dare them, like in a Christmas story, you know. Ninety-percent of the time, that did not work, they were too smart to fall for it, but every once in a while, somebody would take you up on the dare, just to prove how cool and brave they were.
And they would grab the fence with two hands, and it wouldn’t go well. Nobody got seriously hurt, obviously, but still – you’d get a shock. And every time that happened, we’d be like, “We told you it’s an electric fence, why would you actually do that?” And they would always say the same basic thing: They would say some variation of, “I don’t know, I guess I just didn’t really believe it was going to shock me.”
That’s how belief works.
If the other kids in the neighborhood really believed that they were going to get shocked by that electric fence, they would have probably just stayed away from it. They would have said “No” when we double dog dared them to grab it.
And we’re using something dumb to illustrate something serious, here, but you can apply the same logic in the situation of this Royal Official. He sees Jesus, he has witnessed some of the signs and wonders that he has performed, and yet he’s never been possessed to step down from his lofty position and join the movement that Jesus has begun throughout Galilee. It took his son getting deathly ill for him to finally come out and meet Jesus, and even then, all he really wanted was his help.
He likes the laser light show, but he’s apparently got no interest in the glorious realities that the laser light show is pointing towards. He likes the signs and wonders, but he’s not particularly invested in the kingdom they’re inviting us into. He sees what’s happening and he gets it, but up until he experiences the power of Jesus for himself in today’s passage, it wouldn’t have been quite right to say that he believed.
Because if he believed that God’s kingdom had come – a kingdom where God overcomes our sickness, where he overcomes our poverty, where he overcomes our suffering, where he overcomes our hunger and thirst, where he overcomes our broken relationships – he would be doing very different things than he’s doing.
I don’t know whether it would mean that he quits his job as a Royal Official, but it would certainly mean that he’d be following Jesus around the backwaters of Galilee, ministering alongside him.
He wouldn’t have been standing on the sidelines, vaguely admiring Jesus, he would have been investing his life into joining in the work of the Kingdom, because that’s what you do when you believe the signs and wonders that Jesus has shown to us.
That’s what you do when you recognize that Christ is at work in the world: You step in and prayerfully seek out how you can join in the Kingdom work of Jesus. That’s why nearly every time Jesus heals somebody, every time he touches their life, every time we see Jesus restoring somebody’s dignity, we see him follow it up by saying, “Now, come follow me.”
So as a point of application, you should ask yourself, “Do I actually believe “signs and wonders” that Jesus is performing?” “Do I actually believe what Jesus says about his kingdom?”
Ask yourself: What would your life look like if you seriously thought that Christ was putting an end to all our sicknesses, that he was putting an end to our poverty, that Christ is putting an end to all of our broken relationships, that he is even putting an end to death itself?
Would you live differently? How?
Ask yourself, “How – specifically – would I live differently if I believed that the God of the universe had begun the process of putting an end to all of these things and had invited me into the process sharing that good news with the rest of the world?”
Determine how you would live if you seriously believed, all the way to your bones, that the gospel Jesus preaches is true, and then live that way. That’s the application. That is the whole thing. That’s how you avoid the error that this Royal official had fallen into: Live the way that you would live if you really believed in the deepest parts of yourself that the message of the kingdom is true.
Because if you seriously believed that you have been turned into a citizen of a kingdom where every broken relationship is stitched back together and healed, how would it affect your relationship with that family member you haven’t talked to since the 90s?
If you seriously believed that you have been adopted into a family where nobody goes hungry, where nobody goes thirsty, how would it affect your relationship with the people down the road that you know do not have enough to get by?
If you seriously believed that you’ve been invited into a New Age through Jesus Christ, where all of our disease, all of our sickness, all of our injuries, and even our death has been overcome and abolished, how would it affect your relationship with the folks in your life who have medical bills they can never hope to pay off?
Jesus says that people like this Royal Official demand “signs and wonders,” because at the end of the day they are faithless. But followers of Jesus don’t demand a new “sign,” they act on the “signs” they’ve already been given.
So our application for the day is actually very simple: Carry the Kingdom of God into every single corner of your life, until every single corner of your life is submitted the good news the Christ is undoing our brokenness.
We have entered into the section of the service that we typically refer to as the “Altar Call.” What that means is that I’m going to stand awkwardly at the front as we respond in worship to the Lord through song in just a moment. If there is something that you feel that the Lord is calling you to, the altar is open for to come down and pray, or sit in silence. If you’d like, I’d be happy to talk through whatever you feel that the Lord has laid on your heart this morning.
The altar is also open for everyone else. If you have never placed your faith in Jesus Christ, if you’ve never surrendered yourself to follow him the way that Nicodemus, or Joseph of Arimathea, or any number of the folks we see throughout the New Testament have before you, I would love to walk through that process with you, answer any questions that you have, and pray together.
If you would, bow your heads with me, let’s pray.
. If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to John, chapter 4, verses 1 through 42. John says:
When Jesus knew that the Pharisees heard He was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went again to Galilee. 4 He had to travel through Samaria, 5 so He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well. It was about six in the evening.
7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
“Give Me a drink,” Jesus said to her, 8 for His disciples had gone into town to buy food.
9 “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked Him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.”
11 “Sir,” said the woman, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do You get this ‘living water’? 12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.”
13 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.”
15 “Sir,” the woman said to Him, “give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.”
16 “Go call your husband,” He told her, “and come back here.”
17 “I don’t have a husband,” she answered.
“You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus said. 18 “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus told her, “Believe Me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”
26 “I am He,” Jesus told her, “the One speaking to you.”
27 Just then His disciples arrived, and they were amazed that He was talking with a woman. Yet no one said, “What do You want?” or “Why are You talking with her?”
28 Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They left the town and made their way to Him.
31 In the meantime the disciples kept urging Him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But He said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.”
33 The disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought Him something to eat?”
34 “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,” Jesus told them. 35 “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest. 36 The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so the sower and reaper can rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor.”
39 Now many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 Therefore, when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of what He said. 42 And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.”
This is the word of the Lord.
Well, good morning, everyone. We had a nice vacation, but we are extremely glad to be back. We flew in yesterday evening, headed back to our apartment, and crashed about as hard as we’ve ever crashed. That’s the thing about family vacation, right? It’s vacation, but it still takes it out of you. Even if you’ve got a pretty easy going family, like Elyse and I do, no matter what, at the end of the day, you want to be back in your own bed, back in your own city, back on your own, just in general. And so we are glad to be getting back to our routine, if nothing else because it’s just slower.
Now, I am not going to try to transition into our passage today by making some kind of “vacation” connection. Today’s passage is about Jesus leaving his hometown – leaving Nazareth, leaving Galilee – and heading out into an unfamiliar territory, Samaria. But it’s not a vacation. What Jesus is up to here is the opposite of vacation.
If you remember the story of the Good Samaritan, part of the backdrop of that story was that the main character has to pass through a road that leads through Samaria. And the road is dangerous, and scary, and you can’t really trust the people you meet there, and in our passage today, Jesus is passing on through to his next destination, but instead of taking the main road that most Jews would have taken to avoid Samaria, Jesus decides to go straight through Samaria, and as we find out, it has everything to do with the fact that he’s got a divine appointment with a Samaritan woman.
So let’s dive in: We see that that Jesus comes up to a well. He’s thirsty. His disciples are tired and hungry. He sends them off to get food. And for the first time in who-knows-how-long, Jesus has a moment or two to himself.
That doesn’t last very long, though, because soon enough a Samaritan woman shows up.
And as we see all throughout the Gospels, Jesus sees an opportunity to reach out to somebody who’s been passed over by the rest of society, and he pounces on it.
He says, “Give me a drink.” And she’s surprised. She would be surprised. For two reasons, really. The first is that he’s a Jew, and she’s a Samaritan. At this particular point in time, Jews did not like Samaritans. There’s a whole host of reasons behind why those two groups didn’t really like each other, but we won’t get into it now, just suffice it to say that Jews did not like Samaritans, and even with as little social power as Jews had in the Roman Empire, Samaritans had even less. So Jesus, as a Jewish person, was speaking to a “social inferior.”
This Samaritan woman was lower on the social ladder than him, and that in itself made it unbelievably surprising that Jesus would ever talk to her. But there’s more. Jesus is a man, and the Samaritan woman is a woman. And to understand the significance of this passage it’s important to grasp the way that gender relations worked back then.
Because not only was Jesus a social superior speaking to a social inferior, like we mentioned a moment ago, but he was also a man speaking to a woman, and that was almost unheard of. This is the Son of God, sitting alone in a tucked-away corner with a woman. At that particular point in time, that would have gotten you slapped with a social stigma that you would never live down.
If you read much literature from the Ancient Near East, you see just how extreme the social norms that Jesus is rejecting here were: You see old poets, you see old philosophers saying again and again and again, “Watch out for women, because they’ll draw you in and ensnare you into sin.” It’s not quite as bad today, but you still hear that sort of thing, right? They’d say, “Stay away from women, cuz they’re just waiting to catch you in their death grip.”
It gets even worse if you look through any of the old Ancient Near Eastern Court cases that we have documents of – if that’s the way you decide to spend a Saturday afternoon, reading through 3000 year old court cases – you’ll see a whole lot of the same thing: You’ll see a court case where a man saw a woman bathing through a crack in the curtains of the window of her tenement, marched over and kidnapped her, assaulted her, and then sued her for being a temptation to him. That sound familiar?
A lot of y’all have daughters. Any of y’all ever have to correct some really terrible advice your daughters got in the sex ed class at school or something like that? Ever had to correct some really terrible advice from a Sunday school teacher or a school counselor or something, where they said, “If a man harasses you, it’s your fault for leaving yourself open to harassment?” You know what I’m talking about?
That’s bad enough in itself, but take that, multiply it by infinity-thousand, and that’s what the culture throughout the ancient Roman Empire was like. Jesus sat down alone with this Samaritan woman, and it shocked her to no end because no man in his right mind would ever leave himself open to accusations of impropriety like that.
Except Jesus, apparently.
Jesus gave exactly zero credence to that concern. That’s not what you’d expect. You’d expect the Messiah to go out of his way to avoid anything that would give the Pharisees ammunition against him, right? But instead, He sees a tired, lonely, spiritually-empty woman that society has chewed up and spit back out. And instead of running for the hills to avoid any semblance of impropriety, he dives straight in and starts to connect with her on a deep spiritual level.
Now, you would think that what I am about to say would be obvious, but if you do a quick Google search, you’ll find that apparently it isn’t: The Lord is not hitting on this Samaritan woman. None of the things he says here are pickup lines. But Jesus did exactly what his culture told him not to do – he approached a woman alone, but he wasn’t approaching her to “pick her up.” He was approaching her to share the good news with her. He was doing what apparently no man in her life had ever done up to this point. He recognized her actual needs and he met them.
Now, as you may have gathered, this is about to become yet another sermon about evangelism. I want to make sure and clarify, here, that I do not have a fixation on “evangelism.” I am not obsessed with this issue. I never just up and decide that I want to preach on evangelism and then pick a text based on that desire, but it just keeps coming up in these sermons, and the reason it keeps coming up in these sermons is that it just keeps coming up in the Bible. You know what I’m talking about? Evangelism just keeps coming up throughout the Bible.
It is impossible to read the Bible with a straight face and not come away recognizing that evangelism is at the center of our faith and practice. So much so that the old dead Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once said that “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” Billy Graham said something very similar about 50 years ago, when he said that “It’s a mistake to think that there are evangelists, like Billy Graham, on the one hand, and everybody else, like John and Jane Doe, on the other hand.”
He said that “The reality is that John and Jane Doe do most of the work for the kingdom but you don’t ever hear about it.” He says, they’re the real evangelists. He says, “There are mass evangelists, like Billy Graham, and they get a lot of the credit, but they don’t actually make that much of a difference.” Remember, that’s not some anti-evangelism guru. That’s Billy Graham, the “Mass Evangelist Par Excellence,” and according to Billy Graham, “The work of the Kingdom is in the hands of the regular, plain Jane, everyday Christians in our churches.”
He’s not telling us “Mass Evangelism” is bad. He’s telling us, “Do not think of evangelism as something that just happens at revivals.” “Do not think of evangelism as something that just happens overseas, through the missionaries that we fund either through the Cooperative Program or individually as a church.” “Think of evangelism as what you do everyday.” “Think of evangelism as a normal part of your everyday life.”
That absolutely does not mean that you run up and down the streets of Louisburg, running up to people asking if they have “a moment to talk about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” But it absolutely does mean that you are publicly, visibly, noticeably Christian. That’s what it means. That’s pretty much the whole thing.
Take a look at the example that Jesus actually gives us here in John chapter 4. He sits down with this Samaritan woman at the well, and he has a genuine human connection with her. That’s step one. In reality, that’s really more like steps one through ten. You forge a genuine connection with people, and if you don’t it is profoundly unlikely that your evangelism is going to do much of anything.
Looking at our passage, it’s almost kinda funny how simple the connection is: We see Jesus and the Samaritan woman bonding over the fact that they’re both thirsty. That’s a pretty universal human quality, right?
It’s very much a universal human trait that everybody, everywhere has to drink at some point, and so the woman at the well has at least one thing in common with Jesus. But the fact that she is physically thirsty doesn’t even halfway compare to her spiritual thirst. The woman at the well is thirsty for more than just water, she’s hungry for more than just food, she is lonely for more than just friendship, or family, or romance.
All of these normal human needs and desires are important in themselves, but all of them point to something much deeper. And that is that all of us have a deep spiritual thirst; all of us have a deep spiritual hunger; you have a deep spiritual loneliness within yourself, and that loneliness will never go away no matter how many friends you have or how stable your family relationships are or how fulfilling your love life is, because at the end of the day all of those things, though good, are incomplete apart from the deep spiritual needs that they are pointing towards.
And so Jesus and the Samaritan woman get to talking about water, Jesus flips the script and says, “You know, we both drink this water, but we’re just gonna get thirsty again.” Hard to argue with that, right? But he goes on, and says “If you knew who I was, you’d be asking me to give you Living Water, and you’d drink it, and you would never thirst again.”
That kind of sounds like Jesus is saying a whole lot of nothing, right? Like, generally speaking, if somebody is starving, and what you hand them is a gospel tract, you’re a jerk. I guess they can eat the gospel tract, but what they need is food. The kind of stuff that goes into your stomach. And provides the necessary nutrition.
Generally speaking, if somebody is parched to the point of death, what they need from you is literal, actual water. The kind of water you get from the sink, or a well, or the city water supply. Do not offer people spiritual something-or-others when what they need is regular old Plain Jane something-or-others.
But what Jesus is doing here is a million miles away from that. He’s doing something completely different. Jesus is saying, “Your thirst is important. But your thirst is more than just thirst. Your hunger is more than just hunger. Your loneliness is more than just loneliness. Your curiosity is more than just curiosity. All of those things you find within yourself are echoes of something deeper. Your physical thirst points towards your spiritual thirst. And I’d like to tell you how to meet those deep spiritual needs you maybe never knew you had until today.”
Notice how wildly different the evangelism methods that Jesus uses are from the evangelism methods we are usually sold by self-proclaimed “Evangelism Aficionados,” right? Most of the time what you see on television is about tricking people into signing off on a handful of propositions and then ringing the bell and saying, “I got another one!” Right?
Ever seen one of those videos where certain very popular evangelists will go up to somebody out of nowhere and say, “Hey, I got a couple questions for you.” And the person they’re talking to will say “Okay.”
And he’ll say, “Out of curiosity, you ever told a lie before?” And they’ll say, “Well, yeah, everybody has.”
And the evangelist’ll say, “So you admit it, you’re a liar. You know where liars go when they die?” And they probably very confused person they’re talking to will say, “I don’t know.” And they’ll say, “Liars go to hell. Do you want to go to hell?” And they’ll say “Not particularly.”
And the Evangelist’ll say “Well, then repeat this prayer after me.” He’ll say a few lines out of a prayer and then they’ll copy after him and then he’ll have them sign a release form so they can put the video on the internet, and that’s that.
That’s what passes for evangelism most of the time in the United States of America at this particular point in time – but, tell me: Would anybody in their right mind say that has any resemblance to the evangelism that we see throughout the New Testament? Obviously not. The New Testament really doesn’t have a category for making somebody super scared about getting lit on fire and then saying, “But hey, don’t worry, if you repeat this prayer after me, that won’t happen to you.” There’s no category in the New Testament for that, because that isn’t evangelism. That isn’t sharing the gospel. That’s a far cry from the evangelism we actually see throughout the New Testament.
But what we do see, in passages like John chapter 4 is Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman, recognizing her deep spiritual need, and then showing her how that deep spiritual need is met in Jesus Christ. That’s one element that goes into evangelism as the Bible actually depicts it. He says “You’re going to drink this water and eventually get thirsty again, but there’s a thirst that goes beyond thirst. What you need is Living Water. The kind that’ll quench your thirst in such a way that you will never thirst again.”
But maybe the most noteworthy thing about the way this passage portrays evangelism is how unbelievably little goes into it. We see Jesus showing the Samaritan Woman the deeper spiritual need beneath her otherwise very typical human need, we see the light bulb go off, we see her realize that Jesus is the Messiah, devote herself to him, then dead-sprint back into the town where she lives to grab just about everybody she knows, bring them back and introduce them to him. That is the whole thing.
You know why I think so many churches do jack when it comes to evangelism? Because they hyper-complicate it. That’s really what I think it comes down to. You know why to so many people are so unbelievably nervous when it comes to evangelism? Because they make it a million times more complicated than the Samaritan woman made it.
For the Samaritan woman, it was so unbelievably simple. It was very much, “Y’all knew me. Ya’ll know everything I’ve ever done. Ya’ll know what I was like. So did Jesus. This guy just told me everything about my life. This guy just understood me better than I understood me. This guy just showed me the deeper spiritual need beneath my very typical human needs. This guy showed me that I was thirsty for a Living Water, that I was thirsty with a thirst I didn’t even know I had. That I was hungry with a hunger I didn’t even know I had. That I was lonely with a loneliness I didn’t even realize I was carrying around.”
She goes to everybody that she used to know, everybody that she used to wrong, everybody that she used to exploit, everybody that she used to take advantage of, And she says “I bet you have that same underlying emptiness as me.” “I bet you have that same deep, overwhelming, thoroughgoing spiritual thirst that I’ve had.” “And if that’s true, I can show you exactly who can meet that need.”
That’s a bold claim. But in the case of the Samaritan woman, it wasn’t too bold of a claim to believe, because the changes that it brought about in her life were too obvious to ignore. Like Jesus said earlier in the passage, she had five husbands in the past, and the man that she was with now wasn’t her husband. The Samaritan woman had five consecutive spouses. If you have five consecutive failed marriages, that probably either means that you have been married to 5 absolute dirtbags who just keep throwing you aside, or that you are desperately searching for something that marriage cannot provide to you. And it’s probably the latter.
That was the Samaritan woman. She was looking for more than any marriage could possibly provide for her. She was desperate for more than any one person could ever possibly fulfill for her. She was grasping frantically for more than any one human being could ever possibly provide to her, because that’s just how that goes. That’s what it’s like to be human. You are born with deep, overwhelming emotional needs that your spouse cannot possibly satisfy. That your parents cannot possibly satisfy. That your children cannot possibly satisfy. That your friends cannot possibly satisfy.
And unless you’re genuinely defining yourself through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in all likelihood you’re going to try your absolute hardest to force them to satisfy those needs. Right? Metaphorically speaking, you’re going to grab your spouse by the collar and either openly or subtly demand that they meet those deep emotional needs in yourself that they do not have the capacity to fill. And so you’ll burn that bridge all the way down to the ground and probably not even regret it because the bitterness that will grow up in you as a result of your unmet emotional needs will turn you so radically against them that it’s a wonder you don’t kill them. That’s what happens when you try to force other people to meet the deepest needs within your soul.
You will do the same thing to your children. You will warp and wreck your children because you demand more out of them than they can possibly provide you. You will demand that they fulfill your emotional needs as a parent in a way that no children could possibly do because children are not created for that.
You will come to resent your parents, not because they were abusive or anything like that, but because your parents were parents, not superheroes. Because your parents were human, not divine. You will resent your parents, no matter how good they are, because they cannot fill up that vacuum in you.
That’s what happens when you try to force regular, plain Jane water to do what only Living Water can do. That’s what happens when you trying to quench your deep, abiding spiritual thirst with other people’s sweat and blood and tears. That’s what the Samaritan woman used to do, and the result is that there was absolutely no husband that could satisfy her – no friend, no family member, no anything. That was her lonely existence before she met Jesus that fateful day at the well.
And, if we’re honest, that’s probably all of us. That is very much what we are when left to our own devices. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ changed everything about her. And as a result, everybody in town had to meet the guy who changed her. Our passages closes in verse 39-42, saying:
“Now many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” Therefore, when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of what He said. And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.”
That’s very much what evangelism is. It’s not about impressing people. It’s not about out-smarting people. It’s about pointing people towards the God that their deep, spiritual needs are pointing them towards. It’s exactly that simple.
That’s why, when the disciples get back and lose their minds over the fact that Jesus was talking to that Samaritan woman, he says, “Open your eyes.”
He says, “Look at the fields.”
And when they opened their eyes and turned to look at the fields, they realized what everyone has to realize eventually: He says, “The fields are ready for harvest.”
I don’t know about you, but I regularly forget that. The fields are ready for the harvest, and our field is everybody outside those doors. While I was writing this, I couldn’t shake off the weight of my own hypocrisy. I am like the disciples. Jesus says, “Open your eyes,” because the disciples had their eyes closed. There was someone right there waiting to be introduced to the good news of Jesus Christ and they didn’t even see her. Because their eyes were shut. So are mine, most of the time.
I think that’s probably a common condition. We are very much like the disciples, here. We keep our eyes shut and we keep our line of vision away from the harvest. But Jesus shows us another way.
He seeks out the lost and invites them into his family. And he calls us to do the same.
That means that if you’re in the sanctuary this morning, you may very well be part of the fields were meant to harvest. Maybe you’ve heard about Jesus throughout your life, but you’ve never really understood what people are talking about, or maybe you’ve been a member of this church since before I existed, but you’ve never actually surrendered yourself to the Jesus this passage describes – whatever the case – we would like to invite you to throw yourself on the mercy of Jesus exactly the way that the Samaritan Woman models in our passage today.
So I’ll be standing at the front as we respond to the Lord in worship through song in just a moment, waiting for you.
If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to the Gospel of John, chapter 2, verse 23. We’ll be going all the way from 2:23 through the end of chapter 3 this morning, so buckle in. John says:
While Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many trusted in His name when they saw the signs He was doing. 24 Jesus, however, would not entrust Himself to them, since He knew them all 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify about man; for He Himself knew what was in man.
There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 “But how can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked Him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.7 Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again.8 The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can these things be?” asked Nicodemus.
10 “Are you a teacher of Israel and don’t know these things?” Jesus replied. 11 “I assure you: We speak what We know and We testify to what We have seen, but you do not accept Our testimony. 12 If I have told you about things that happen on earth and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about things of heaven?13 No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.
16 “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.
19 “This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed. 21 But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.”
22 After this, Jesus and His disciples went to the Judean countryside, where He spent time with them and baptized. 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water there. People were coming and being baptized, 24 since John had not yet been thrown into prison.
25 Then a dispute arose between John’s disciples and a Jew about purification. 26 So they came to John and told him, “Rabbi, the One you testified about, and who was with you across the Jordan, is baptizing—and everyone is flocking to Him.”
27 John responded, “No one can receive a single thing unless it’s given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
31 The One who comes from above is above all. The one who is from the earth is earthly and speaks in earthly terms. The One who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what He has seen and heard, yet no one accepts His testimony. 33 The one who has accepted His testimony has affirmed that God is true. 34 For God sent Him, and He speaks God’s words, since He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hands. 36 The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.
This is the Word of the Lord.
We are about to dive into what might be the most famous passage in all of scripture. I’ve you’ve been to Sunday School, or VBS, or anything, then chances are you remember the old familiar verse, John 3:16.
But what’s fascinating, though, is that what might be the most famous passage in all of scripture opens with what oughtta be the most infamous passage in all of scripture. Starting at verse 23, John says:
“While [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many trusted in His name when they saw the signs He was doing. 24 Jesus, however, would not entrust Himself to them, since He knew them all 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify about man; for He Himself knew what was in man.”
That’s shocking. The crowds see Jesus healing the sick, they see him lifting up the poor, they see him turning water into wine, they see him clearing out the temple because it’s become corrupt and stopped doing what God created it to do, and they’re amazed. So they start to crowd around him. They start promising to “entrust” themselves to him.
But he does not entrust himself to them in return. That’s shocking.
From a practical standpoint that seems like a very bad decision. Right? If your goal is to build up a big following, generally speaking you should not turn away the masses when they entrust themselves to you. If your goal is to become a cult leader, the last thing you want to do is to tell your potential cult members to go do something else with their lives. But that’s exactly what Jesus does.
Jesus turns away the masses, which probably shocked his disciples, and would certainly shock most any “Church Growth Specialist” you would consult, because that’s Jesus saying “No” to cold hard numbers. That’s Jesus saying no to “growth for growth’s sake.” And if we take a look at verse 26, we see exactly why.
It says Jesus did not entrust himself to those masses, because he “knew exactly what was in man.” He knew exactly what was in each of those people. Every person who came down to meet him after watching him perform some sign, who got caught up in the heat of the moment, and made a promise they didn’t mean, who entrusted their lives to him, full of passion but probably not sincerity – Jesus knew them from the inside, but he knew them deeper than that. Jesus knows us with a knowledge that is very much like knowing us from the inside, but is actually more perceptive than that. Jesus knows us better than we know us, because he knows us without all of our delusions.
So Jesus turns away the crowd.
Now, I don’t have a definitive answer for you, but I think this has everything in the world to do with what the masses wanted. When you approach somebody and entrust yourself to him, it matters what you want when you’re doing it, right? There’s a difference between entrusting yourself to someone in a good way, like you’d entrust yourself to your spouse, or your friend, and entrusting yourself to somebody in a bad way, like a stalker, and the difference has everything to do with what you want when you do it.
And our passage says nothing directly about what they wanted from him, but it does tell us exactly what they didn’t want.
Looking at chapter 3, verse 3, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, and he says, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Whatever the masses thought they were going to get from Jesus, it wasn’t the Kingdom of God.
Whatever the masses wanted from Jesus, it was not what he came to give them. Does that sound familiar? It’s been 2000 years since Jesus had this hard conversation with Nicodemus, and things are basically the same. The masses approaching Jesus seem to want something very different from him than he actually offers.
In the year 2020, it seems very much like the average person approaches Jesus and entrusts themselves to him because they think that he’s going to make them rich, they think he’s going to take away the difficulty in their lives, that he’s going to grant them three wishes, or something. But as our passage our passage demonstrates, that’s not a new thing. The reality is that there’s never been a point in history in which the masses have not swarmed around Jesus and entrusted themselves to him with very different ideas about what Jesus is going to give them than what he ever actually offered.
And the result is that the crowds sought out Jesus, but they were not looking for the Kingdom.
Of course they weren’t looking for the Kingdom. They couldn’t even see it, verse 3. Jesus says, “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Of course they weren’t seeking out the Kingdom of God, they wouldn’t even have known it if they’d seen it.
So it’s worth asking: Are you seeking out the Kingdom of God? Do you actually want the Kingdom of God? Would you know it if you saw it? Would you care? When you entrust yourself to Jesus, what are you trying to get out of it?
To put it a little bit more pointedly: Are you looking for a King? Are you looking for a Savior?
Or are you just looking to get let off the hook for the bad things you’ve done throughout your life?
If it’s the latter, I have very bad news for you. You are the crowd.
You might walk down to the aisle and performatively entrust yourself to Jesus, but he will not entrust himself to you in return.
Don’t get me wrong: Jesus absolutely saves us from our sin, he absolutely saves us from our condemnation, but if your goal when you entrust yourself to him is to get “let off the hook,” then you will not be let off the hook. Like with the crowds, he will not entrust himself to you.
That’s a hard word. But the reasoning behind that is very simple. It’s because Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of light, and there is absolutely no room for darkness in it. That’s why Jesus says, in verse 19,“The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of light, and you will not seek out the light if you’re bent on keeping your darkness.
If that’s you, then you will not find the Kingdom of God, because you’re not even looking for it. That’s why Jesus says, in verse 20, “For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed.” You will not see the Kingdom of God, because you don’t actually want to. That’s what we see happening with the crowds. Christ has zero interest in amassing a fan club who’s impressed with his miracles. Christ is looking for citizens for his Kingdom.
That’s our first point, that Christ knows your heart, just like he knew the hearts of the masses. And if you’re like the people who made up those masses, that might very well be bad news instead of good news.
But there is good news. And the good news is that just like Christ knows your heart, he also knows your sickness.
And just like Christ knows your sickness. And he knows the cure.
If you’ve spent much time in John chapter 3, you probably have a handful of questions about one very strange statement that he makes right before we get to the old familiar verse in John 3:16.
You might remember verses 14 and 15, where Jesus makes that very strange claim, he says:
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.” \
If you’re like me the first time I read that passage, you get to the part where Jesus is talking about Moses with some snake in the wilderness, and you’re like, “The, uh, what now?”
We can’t really dive deep into it, it is very much a sermon of its own for another day, but Moses is drawing from what would have been a very well-known story from the book of Numbers. After Israel has rebelled against Yahweh for the infinity-eth time, God sends poisonous serpents, he sends poisonous snakes into Israel’s camp. They bite everybody, and everybody gets sick as all get out.
Which is honestly kinda funny.
But Jesus uses the story of the serpents in the wilderness to make a point about our own spiritual sickness. He’s saying, “You are sick with a sickness you cannot heal.” Doesn’t that ring true?
Maybe it doesn’t. When things are going well for you, it is very easy to bury your head in the sand, and pay zero attention to what you’re really like. There’s that old saying, that “everybody thinks of themselves as the good guy, because they see the world from their own perspective.”
You think of yourself as the good guy, because you see the world from your own perspective.
But that applies to everybody. That person you hate because they’re just constantly doing dumb and terrible and obviously inexcusable things sees themself as the good guy in their own story, just like you do – because everybody experiences the world from their own perspective.
But if you’re like me, every once in a while, something will happen that surprises you. Literally just shocks you. You will say something, and the second you say it, you’re like, “What’s wrong with me?” You’ll do something without thinking, and you’ll realize it soon as you do it, that that’s the kind of thing a scumbag would do. You look in the mirror, and you’re like, “Who are you?”
You know why that happens? Because you have a sickness. Because you are not well. Level with yourself here: You are not okay.
It’s okay to admit that. You are not okay. Nobody Is.
There is something wildly wrong with all of us. It’s just written in our DNA. It’s part of what it means to live in a fallen world that is in need of redemption.
And, among other things, that ought to make us a profoundly empathetic people.
Case-in-point: Your spouse is inconsiderate. Of course she is. Your children are unappreciative. Of course they are. Your parents just don’t understand, to quote Will Smith, of course, they don’t. That’s how people are. Everybody is profoundly unwell. There is a deep sickness, a deep brokenness in everyone. We are all afflicted with the same disease, and knowing that oughtta make us unbelievably patient.
Knowing that we are all afflicted with the same disease ought to make us unbelievably patient, unbelievably understanding, unbelievably forgiving, unbelievably eager to look past each other’s faults and love each other the way that we are.
I would never deny that sometimes you need to cut toxic people out of your life, but knowing that we are all afflicted with that same sickness, that we are all the same kind of Not Okay, means that that should rarely be our first resort. It means that breaking relationships off with people should rarely be a thing that we do. Because you and I are profoundly unwell, and knowing that everybody around us is suffering under that same unwellness should make us abnormally forgiving.
Literally, forgiving to the point that freaks the world out. The kind of forgiving that makes our neighbors wonder what’s wrong with us, that makes them wonder why we keep giving people chances, why we keep inviting people into our lives when they’re just going to keep screwing up.
Don’t misunderstand me: This is not a call to be doormats, but it is absolutely a call to be supernaturally patient.
Because you and I are sick with a sickness that we cannot heal ourselves. And Jesus uses the story of the snakes in the wilderness to illustrate that deep, spiritual sickness that we’re all suffering under.
But he also uses that story to tell us about the cure. Because in the book of Numbers, eventually the people of Israel get over themselves, they come crawling back, and say, “Lord, please remove this curse from us.” And so God pulls Moses aside, and says, “Build a giant statue of a serpent, exactly like the serpents that bit you. Set it up in the middle of the camp, and bring everybody to come and gaze at the serpent. Everybody who lays eyes on the statue of the serpent will be healed.”
And so they get everybody in a line, take them into the middle of the camp, they lay eyes on the serpent, and they are healed. That’s the story Jesus is drawing on here. Jesus says, “Remember the snake in the wilderness.” “Remember the snake that heals you.” “Remember the snake Moses had to lift up in order to heal the sickness of his people?” He says, “I am like that.”
He’s says, “I am going to be lifted up, and everyone who turns and looks to me for healing will be healed.” He’s saying, “I know your sickness, and I am the cure.” Christ knows your sickness, and Christ is the cure.
And very much like the old days in the wilderness, all it really takes to be healed is to look. Jesus says that “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.” Very much like the old days in the wilderness, all it really takes to be healed is to look.
That’s anticlimactic. Right? That is not the conclusion you would assume would be coming based on the rest of the story. You know what I’m talking about?
So much so that there are some people who will never believe the gospel for exactly that reason. The idea that the solution to your problem, that the way to be healed of the deep, overwhelming brokenness that has plagued you your entire life is to shift your eye line – to turn your gaze onto the Christ who was lifted up in the cross, believe in him, and be saved – that will push so many people away.
Of course it will. Because that takes a baseball bat to your pride, right? The cross takes a bat to your pride.
Because if you’re the sort of person who finds your identity primarily in how much better you are than everybody else around you, learning that your sin is bad enough that it necessitated the death of Jesus, that will take you down a peg. Right? That might take you down so many pegs you decide this religion is not for you. When you genuinely grasp that your sin was horrific enough that Jesus needed to die in your place to redeem you, that prideful disdain for people who are lower on the social ladder than you oughta wither up and evaporate.
But maybe it won’t. Your pride might never evaporate. You might go the whole rest of your life deeply committed to the idea that you are superior to your neighbors, maybe that you’re superior to most of the people in the pews. And if that happens, let me tell you what you’re probably going to do.
You’re probably going to keep nodding along to the things that the preacher says. You’re probably going to keep nodding along at the Women’s Bible Study or at the Men’s Bible Study, you’re going to say, “Amen” when you hear something you like. But in your heart of hearts, you’re going to just ever so slightly adjust the gospel that you believe. You will slightly adjust your beliefs so that rather than recognizing and living out the gospel that Jesus preaches to us, you will weave a very different gospel that says, “If you want to go to heaven, here’s the religion that’ll get you there.”
You’ll weave a very different gospel that says, “You can earn your way into heaven by believing the right things.” You will create a very different gospel for yourself that says, “I cornered God into accepting me by saying a magic prayer,” like it’s some kind of password that gets you through the door into the clubhouse, or something.
And yet what Jesus tells Nicodemus here is very different.
He says that, “Like the snake that Moses lifted up in the wilderness, so also the Son of man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” Your problem is not that you used to believe the wrong thing so the solution is to start believing the right thing, your problem is that you are sick with a sickness that you cannot heal yourself, and the solution is to turn your gaze onto Jesus to be healed.
That brings us to a second very important question, although, honestly, it’s essentially just the first question I asked earlier: Do you want to be healed? Do you actually want to be healed?
Ask yourself. Seriously. Do you want to be healed of that deep, spiritual sickness that you find in yourself?
To be entirely frank, I think the answer for most people is “No.” If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us cherish our sickness. Level with yourself, here: You probably love your sin. It seems very much that most folks like the idea of the light, but not so much that they’re willing to part with their darkness.
So ask yourself: Do you want to be healed of that deep, spiritual sickness that you find in yourself? If the answer is “No,” I’m not surprised. But if the answer is yes, then Jesus tells us exactly where to look. He says, “God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”
That’s our second point, Christ knows our sickness, and Christ is our cure.
But John does not leave us hanging on that point, because as we see, he transitions in the last section of our passage, into our third and final point. And that is that as people who have been healed and are being healed through Jesus, the rest of our lives are about bringing people to Christ to find healing for themselves.
Looking at verses 26 through 30, John says that:
“[The disciples of John the Baptist] told him, “Rabbi, the One you testified about, and who was with you across the Jordan, is baptizing—and everyone is flocking to Him.” 27 John responded, “No one can receive a single thing unless it’s given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Notice what’s happening there. John’s disciples come to him, and they’re complaining to him, saying, “John, notice how few people are here? We are hemorrhaging disciples to that guy Jesus that you introduced us to.”
And John’s response essentially boils down to, “Yeah, I wish we’d hemorrhage more.” He says, “I told you, I am not the Messiah. I am not the guy you’ve been waiting for. I am not the one who’s going to satisfy your longings. I am not the one who’s going to heal your sickness. I’m just a guy who wants to point you towards him. And there he is. So what are you still doing here?”
He closes out his monologue with that famous line: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
As people who have been and are being healed through Jesus, the rest of our lives are about bringing people to Christ to find healing for themselves.
That means that if you’re here this morning and, if you’re honest with yourself, you do not know Jesus. You know about Jesus, you admire Jesus – maybe growing up, as far as you could tell, Jesus was the god over this particular patch of land, so you figured that you were already a Christian by virtue of being an American, or something, but you’re realizing now that that’s not quite how it works. If that describes you, I’ll be standing at the front in just a moment as we respond to the Lord in worship through song, and we would love for you to come down to the front and have a conversation with me. I’d love to talk you trough the process of turning your gaze onto Jesus to be healed.
If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to the gospel of John, chapter 2, verses 1 through 12. John says:
On the third day a wedding took place in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and 2 Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding as well. 3 When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother told Him, “They don’t have any wine.”
4 “What has this concern of yours to do with Me, woman?” Jesus asked. “My hour has not yet come.”
5 “Do whatever He tells you,” His mother told the servants.
6 Now six stone water jars had been set there for Jewish purification. Each contained 20 or 30 gallons.
7 “Fill the jars with water,” Jesus told them. So they filled them to the brim. 8 Then He said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the chief servant.” And they did.
9 When the chief servant tasted the water (after it had become wine), he did not know where it came from—though the servants who had drawn the water knew. He called the groom 10 and told him, “Everyone sets out the fine wine first, then, after people have drunk freely, the inferior. But you have kept the fine wine until now.”
11 Jesus performed this first sign in Cana of Galilee. He displayed His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.
12 After this, He went down to Capernaum, together with His mother, His brothers, and His disciples, and they stayed there only a few days.
This is the word of the lord.
Welcome to the sermon where I maybe get fired.
I think one of the more common misconceptions that people labor under is the idea that there’s really two parts of life – on the one hand, there’s the “normal” parts of life, like your job, your family, your taxes, and so forth, and on the other hand, there’s the “sacred” parts of life, the “religious” parts.
If you’ve ever listened to the radio before, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.
You might remember that song by Little Big Town that goes, “Five card poker on Saturday night, church on Sunday morning!” Or that Brantley Gilbert song,“We live it up for the weekend, somebody said something ‘bout church on Sunday.” Or that Tim McGraw song, “I need Jesus or I need whiskey, whatever works best to get me through.”
And these are all good songs, and maybe those lyrics do describe your life perfectly, but pay close attention to the way they frame things. It’s very much, “Here’s all the normal things I like. I work hard, I play hard.” But then, over here, in a very different category, “I love Jesus Christ.” “I go to church on Sunday!” These other six days are about me. They’re about my family. They’re about my needs, my wants, my interests. But Sunday’s about the Lord.
That’s very much the way our culture tends to think about these things.
And yet as we look through our passage for today, one of the things we’re gonna see is that Jesus doesn’t seem to hold these distinctions at all. Our culture says, “These things belong to you, but those things belong to God.” But John tells us that Christ cares about all of it. Christ cares about the mundane parts of your life. Christ is Lord over everything, everywhere. And he’s intimately involved in even those things that seem too silly to mention to him.
God even cares when your party’s not going well. Literally. That’s what John is narrating this morning. Jesus is at a wedding party and it’s not going well. Looking at verse 3, it says, “When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother told Him, “They don’t have any wine.”
That’s the unfortunate situation that the host is in. They’re behind the wheel of this week’s wedding celebration, which is just about the only entertainment most of these folks are gonna get this week, and they’ve run out of the main attraction. That’s embarrassing. That’s about seven steps past being a buzzkill.
In that culture, that’s more than embarrassing – it’s shameful. You run out of wine at your celebration, you’re branded for life as a bad host. You fail at hospitality. And Mary knows that. So she looks down at her empty wine glass, and says, “They don’t have any more wine.”
But Jesus says, “What has this concern of yours to do with Me?” He says, “My hour has not yet come.” This was not the moment that Jesus had been planning on kicking off his public ministry.
But, y’know, generally speaking, a good son does what his mom asks. And Jesus was a good son.
Now, it’s important to mention here that he was infinitely more than just a good son. If you are extremely new to this Christianity thing, and you’re not particularly familiar with the Bible, what I’m about to say might hit you like a train, but Jesus is more than just a good man. He’s more than just a wise teacher. He’s more than just a great spiritual leader. He is all of those things, but get ready, because here it comes: Jesus is the God of the universe. This Jesus is the God who created you.
Like, somebody made you. right? That’s shouldn’t be a controversial thing to say, even in the year 2020. You were created by someone or something. You didn’t just start existing. I am fully aware that we all know how babies are made, or, at least, I hope we do, but even so, there’s something more. Right?
There’s something left something to be desired. And that is that we are created by God. We don’t know how that works. We just know that it works. Human existence isn’t just a fact. It’s a miracle.
People aren’t just facts. People are miracles. You aren’t just a fact. You are a miracle. You matter infinitely, you are of infinite value, your body and your soul are of eternal and immeasurable value, because you are created by God.
Think about what that means. God wanted you to exist. To put that in a negative form, God didn’t want you to not exist. God decided, specifically, to create you. And that is exactly how much you matter, no matter what. No matter what you’ve done, no matter what you’ve said, no matter what you think about yourself or about God – or about me, right? God created you, and the God who created you is this Jesus we’ve been reading about.
And so Jesus is more than just a good man. He’s more than just a good son. But he is a good son. When God comes to earth and lives out a human life, he’s a good son. He’s such a good son that he Uses His Authority As The God Of The Universe To Refill His Mom’s Wine Glass. That’s how good of a son the Lord Jesus Christ is.
So Jesus says, “Look, mom, I don’t know what your empty wine glass problem has to do with me, my hour has not yet come.” And Mary doesn’t even really respond. I imagine she just kind of smirks at him, like, “Yeah, that’s nice honey.” Then she turns to the servants, verse 5, and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” And that just kinda settles it.
And so Jesus, maybe, just leans back in his seat, sighs, gets up, says, “OK let’s go. Where’s the big water barrels. Let’s get this over with.”
And yes, that’s funny. That’s humorous. It is objectively funny that the mother of Jesus successfully heckles him into turning the water at a wedding into wine so that the wedding guests who already managed to drink it all up can drink even more wine. That’s like an Abbott and Costello act.
But it also tells us something very important. It tells us God cares about every aspect of our lives. God cares deeply about every single corner of your life. There is nothing in the world that is too small, too insignificant, to carry to the God of the universe and plead your case to him. Because however much you think you care about your problems, God cares significantly more.
Now, because of the subject matter of the passage, I need to give a very obvious disclaimer. Do not take this passage as a justification for your alcoholism. Do not take the second chapter of John as a license to feed your alcoholism.
Like, look – if I’m visiting your house, and I look at a wall and see your fully stocked wine rack, I’m not going to make it an issue, because it isn’t an issue. I don’t personally drink, but the scripture never prohibits alcohol. And since the scripture never prohibits alcohol, I do not have the authority as your pastor to prohibit you from drinking alcohol.
But the scripture is loud and clear about drunkenness. It could not be clearer about drunkenness. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that drinking alcohol is a sin, but abusing alcohol to intoxicate yourself is absolutely sinful, because there is no non-sinful way to intoxicate yourself.
Because as followers of Jesus we are called to sobriety. We are called to keep our heads clear. Because we are always called to be the adult in the room. At all times, we’re called to be the reasonable person in the room. We are called to be the alert and sober-minded person in the room, regardless of where we are or what the occasion is, and we cannot do that if we are intoxicated.
You cannot be the adult in the room if you’re intoxicated. And so as a point of application: Do not get drunk. I know that’s not a very sophisticated sermon point. But do not take this passage as a justification for your habitual drunkenness. Jesus turned water into alcohol because it’s perfectly fine to drink alcohol, but it is absolutely not fine to use alcohol to intoxicate yourself, because we are called to sobriety.
Like I said, that was a necessary digression. But the point of today’s passage is really not about alcohol at all.
The point of today’s passage is that God cares deeply about every single corner of your life, even corners as seemingly-insignificant as you party that’s going terribly. There is nothing in the world that is too small, too insignificant, to carry to the God of the universe and plead your case to him. Because however much you think you care about your problems, God cares significantly more.
So you can be confident. You can confidently carry your small, mundane, seemingly-insignificant problems to the Lord and expect him to intervene.
That’s the second thing we learn in our passage today. We find that not only does Christ care about the mundane aspects of our life, we find that Christ intervenes in them. And when he intervenes in our lives, he does more than we ever asked or imagined.
That’s a quote from Paul in the 3rd chapter of Ephesians. God is “able to do far above and beyond all that we ask or imagine,” and we see exactly that kind of thing playing out in our passage this morning.
So, looking at verses 9-10, John says, “When the chief servant tasted the water (after it had become wine), he did not know where it came from—though the servants who had drawn the water knew. He called the groom 10 and told him, “Everyone sets out the fine wine first, then, after people have drunk freely, the inferior. But you have kept the fine wine until now.”
Now, like I said, I’m not a wine guy. I don’t drink. Wine is like grape juice but worse. And significantly more expensive, so I don’t really get the wine thing, but evidently the folks at this wedding would disagree with me, and so Jesus takes the empty water barrels, has the servants fill them to the brim, and he turns the water into the kind of wine nobody at that wedding party would ever have been able to afford.
All they needed was more wine. What they got was better wine. The chief servant says, “Normally, people put out the good wine, and then once the folks at their wedding party are kind of buzzed, then they put out the bad wine, ’cause once you’re buzzed you don’t really care. But you’ve done the opposite. You put out the “gas station wine” first, then you brought out the top shelf wine that’s been in your family for 7 generations. What are you doing?” The chief servant didn’t understand. That’s how God works.
God intervenes in your life, but he never returns things to the status quo. He never just plucks you out of trouble and then set you right back down where you were. That’s not how God works. God’s goal is never simply to protect you. It’s never simply to save you from embarrassment. It’s never simply to spare you from difficulty.
It’s always to transform you. It’s always to change you. It’s always to bless you more abundantly than you could possibly be prepared for. When Christ intervenes in our lives, he always does far more than we asked or imagined.
Now, it’s very important that I make it clear what I do not mean, here.
We are not teetering on the edge of “prosperity theology.” I’m not about to start preaching a “prosperity gospel.” If you have no idea what the prosperity gospel is, good for you. I’m about to ruin that by telling you about it. I am sorry. Prosperity theology is a movement that got real popular in the mid-20th century. “Prosperity theology” essentially says that, “If you are faithful to God, he’s going to make your life easy.” “He’s going to make your life luxurious.” “He’s going to make you rich.” “He’s going to make you powerful.” “He’s going to make all your troubles disappear.” That is not where we are going with this.
It is absolutely true that when Christ intervenes on your behalf, he will do far more than you ever asked or imagined. But that does not mean that God is going to make you rich. That does not mean that God is going to make you not sick. That does not mean that God is going to take away your clinical depression. That does not mean that God is going to magically make your spouse or your kids or your neighbors or your anybody suddenly like you instead of not liking you. That’s not how any of that works.
What it means, instead, is that like Ephesians 3 says, God is going to “glorify himself” by “working his power in you.”
So if the mundane situation in your life that you have brought to God and asked him to intervene in is your “strained family relationship,” do not expect God to change your family member. Expect God to change you. Expect God to “glorify himself” by “working his power in you.”
Now, obviously, if your strained family relationship is the result of abuse inflicted on you by your family member, then what I just said does not apply.
If your strained family relationship is the result of abuse inflicted on you, Step One towards addressing that might be getting out of the house. It is not “unspiritual” to look at it that way. Pay zero attention to the people who tell you that you can just “pray your spouse’s abusive tendencies away.”
If your spouse is abusing you, stay at your sister’s house, or something. If you don’t have a family member or friend whose home you can crash at, get with us, we will find you somewhere so that you don’t have to stay under the same roof as your abuser.
But the onus is on them. The burden of stitching your relationship back together is absolutely on your abusive family member, it is not on you. If your strained family relationship is the result of abuse inflicted on you, the burden of repairing your relationship is absolutely not on you.
But that’s a fringe situation. That’s very much out there in left field. That is not the norm.
Most of the time, if you have a strained family relationship, the problem is that you’re hard-headed, and your family member is hard-headed, and you guys just have to find a way to push past your mutual hard-headedness and relate to each other on the terms that the other person needs. They need to figure out how you need to be related to, and you need to figure out how they need to be related to, and you develop a way to interact in a healthy way together. There’s give-and-take. That’s the norm.
And if that’s the mundane life-struggle that you’re bringing to God, that’s excellent, but do not expect for God’s response to be changing your family member. Expect God’s response to be changing you. Expect God to “glorify himself” by “working his power in you.”
If you ask for a smoother relationship with your difficult sibling or your distant father, or your overbearing mother – I am sorry for the stereotypes – expect God to do far more than you ever asked or imagined in you. Expect God to change you far more than you ever asked or imagined. Expect God to give you a patience that you did not have beforehand, that you could not have found somewhere deep down in yourself because it wasn’t there deep down in yourself. Expect God to intervene on your behalf far beyond what you asked or imagined like that.
And expect that to be annoying.
Can we admit that? God’s mercy is annoying. God’s intervention is annoying. When God comes to your aid, it is almost never not annoying. It is almost never just comforting. It’s always God grabbing you, melting you down and then shaping you back into something new that reflects his glory in a way you did not beforehand, and the process is scary, and the process hurts, and the process is obnoxious and you hate it – and then on the other side you can’t imagine ever having settled for the way you used to be.
When Christ intervenes in your life, he does far more than you asked or imagined. Sometimes that means turning your oversized water barrels into better wine than you had in the first place, sometimes it means transforming you in a way that turns your relationships right side up.
So that’s our second point. Not only does God care deeply about the small, mundane, seemingly-insignificant parts of your life, but he intervenes on your behalf. And when Christ intervenes in your life, he does far more than you ever asked or imagined.
And, lastly, John shows us that when Christ intervenes in our lives, the proper response is to believe in him. When Christ intervenes in your life, the proper response is to believe in him. Looking at verse 11, John says “Jesus performed this first sign in Cana of Galilee. He displayed His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.”
I want you to think about that sentence. “He displayed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.” That’s actually a very strange sentence, because there was a whole wedding full of people who witnessed that miracle.
There was a whole wedding full of people who witnessed Jesus turning water into wine. But only the folks who believed in him because of it actually became his disciples. At risk of oversimplifying everything in the world, that’s a good image of the two kinds of people that exist.
There are people who witness God’s glory, and are so taken with it that they throw themselves at his feet and commit to following him wherever he takes them, and there are people who witness God’s glory, shrug it off, lean back in their chair, and go back business as usual.
You are one of those two people. You are either a disciple, or a bystander. And this will not surprise you, but we want you to be the first one.
Because the truth is that you have witnessed God’s glory. Even if you’ve never seen somebody turn water into wine, or even if you’ve never seen somebody miraculously healed of this or that, you’ve never watched an exorcism that wasn’t on a YouTube video or in a Hollywood movie, even if you’ve never witnessed any of that, you have seen God’s glory.
Because God has written his glory into the universe. If you have looked at a tree or been outside, you have seen the glory of God. If you have ever met a human, you have seen the glory of God. Because God reveals his glory to us through the glory he has given everything.
Maybe you’ve never watched any miracle play out, but you do not need to. Because you have seen God’s glory, because you exist, and you can’t exist and not see God’s glory. So the question is not whether or not you’ve seen God’s glory, the question is how you will respond to it.
Are you going to lean back, and sip the miraculous top shelf wine Jesus pulled out of a water barrel before going back to business as usual, or are you gonna jump out of your chair, run over to Jesus, and pledge yourself to him as his disciple.
We can’t make that decision for you. Your parents cannot make that decision for you. Only you can make that decision for yourself, today.
And we invite you to do exactly that. We invite you to come, throw yourself at the feet of Jesus, and become his disciple.
If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 35 through 51. John says:
Again the next day, John was standing with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!”
37 The two disciples heard him say this and followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and noticed them following Him, He asked them, “What are you looking for?”
They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are You staying?”
39 “Come and you’ll see,” He replied. So they went and saw where He was staying, and they stayed with Him that day. It was about 10 in the morning.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard John and followed Him. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which means “Anointed One”), 42 and he brought Simon to Jesus.
When Jesus saw him, He said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which means “Rock”).
43 The next day He decided to leave for Galilee. Jesus found Philip and told him, “Follow Me!”
44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law (and so did the prophets): Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth!”
46 “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked him.
“Come and see,” Philip answered.
47 Then Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said about him, “Here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Jesus answered.
49 “Rabbi,” Nathanael replied, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
50 Jesus responded to him, “Do you believe only because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.”51 Then He said, “I assure you: You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
This is the word of the Lord.
So, uh, I wanna start off today’s sermon with a really dumb analogy. Back when I lived in Oklahoma, as you might remember, I was working at one point as a tech repair person. I was not particularly good at it, but I could get the job done, and I showed up to all of my shifts. And generally speaking, when you’re capable of getting the job done and you show up to all of your shifts and you pass all of the random-but-not-random drug tests, you get promoted every year or two, or three.
Those promotions rarely mean much and they rarely come with much of a pay raise but they do look good on your resume, at least until other companies catch on, right? And so I was an assistant manager at a tech repair shop in Shawnee, which meant that most of the time when I was on shift at the tech repair shop I was kind of running things.
And every once in a while, I’d be on shift at the store, and one of the customers would do that thing that customers do, where they say, “I would like to speak with your manager.” You know what I’m talking about? Maybe you have been that person. If that’s the case, no offence. That does not mean you’re bad, although you should probably inpsect your food very carefully when you’re eating at a restaurant – that’s my recommendation to you.
But I always enjoyed when people would ask to speak with the manager, because then I got to say, “You are in luck because I am the manager.” And suddenly things would change. A switch would flip. They would start talking to me differently. They realized they weren’t just talking to an underling. I was not a grunt. The way they saw me shifted from “peon” to “equal,” or something like it. They would suddenly see me for who I was, not for who they assumed I was.
That is very much like what happens in the first part of our passage today. Over the course of today’s passage we are going to watch the disciples as the light bulb comes on. We’re going to see a lot of ourselves in the disciples as we look on from the outside as it dawns on them that Jesus is not just some guy from Galilee. He is the long-awaited Messiah.
That is our first point. We see in today’s passage that there comes a point in all of our lives where we see Jesus for who he is.
As we pick up in our passage, the disciples have been gathering in the wilderness to hear John the Baptist preach and teach for who knows how long. That’s important. What’s important to understand about that is that it means that the disciples were not just going about their lives, business as usual. Nothing could be further from the truth. The disciples were “seekers,” you could say. They were looking for something different than the half-truths and outright falsehoods they experienced in their normal everyday discourse. You know what I’m talking about? What I have found is that the average person really does not care what’s true. Right?
Like, let’s level with ourselves. You can find somebody, some website, some alternative news source, some magazine, some Internet pundit – something – who will tell you what you want to hear. Literally. Whatever it is that you want to believe, you can find somebody who will package it for you and sell it to you cheap.
Like, if you love “conspiracy theories,” you can watch Infowars. You can find all sorts of radical conspiracy theorists on the Internet who will package up exciting conspiracy theories and sell them to you cheap, or deliver them to you free ’cause they can profit off the ad revenue.
Or if you really want to believe that there is no God, that all of the religions of the world are just ancient superstitions that we for some reason have yet to let go of, you can find website after website after website, you can find film after film after film, you can find all kinds of books and magazines – everything – that will package that idea and sell it to you cheap.
Or if you want to believe the Bible signs off on whatever your current, obviously sinful habit or lifestyle is, you can find essay after essay, scholarly work after scholarly work, article after article that will confirm that assumption, and sell it to you cheap.
Our world today is very much like the world yesterday. You can find all kinds of voices that will confirm whatever you want to believe. Half-truths and outright falsehoods have always reigned supreme over culture, and so the disciples decided to “Exit, Stage Left,” and try to seek out the truth.
So you should ask yourself: Are you seeking out the truth? Do you actually care? Would you want the truth if you found it? If you found the truth, and it did not benefit you, it did not serve your interests, would you still devote yourself to it? Or would you do what most folks do and stick your fingers in your ears, turn back around, and go back to business as usual, devoting yourself to a half-truth or an outright falsehood because it served your interests better than the truth?
I can’t answer that question for you. Only you can answer that question for you.
But if what you’re seeking is the truth, that I have good news for you. If the truth is what you’re after, regardless of whether it personally benefits you, regardless of whether it lines up with what you’ve already determined you would like to believe, then you’re going to find yourself in a position very similar to the disciples in today’s passage.
What you’re going to find is that the truth that you were seeking out in the wilderness with John the Baptist was seeking you out, too. That’s what the disciples find in our passage today. They were seeking out the truth, and the truth was seeking them./
And so we see three different instances where the disciples encounter Jesus and, by God’s grace, they see him for who he is.
Looking at verse 41, the disciples run and find their siblings, grab them by the collar, and say, “Cancel your plans, we found the Messiah.” “I know you were going to the club tonight. And I assure you that what I just came across is way more interesting.” Skipping down a few verses to verse 45, we see the same thing again. The disciples run to their friends and say, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law.” “We have found the one the prophets wrote about.”
That’s a serious claim. Right? That sounds kind of crazy, doesn’t it? Imagine that somebody came up to you today and said, “Look, I know it sounds strange, but I met the person that Moses was pointing us towards in Deuteronomy.” “I know it sounds crazy, but I’m getting brunch next week with the guy that Isaiah the Prophet was talking about.” Somebody says something like that to you, normally that means they ought to be institutionalized. Right? And yet that’s very much what we’re doing every time we evangelize./
That’s what we’re doing when we evangelize. We’re seeking people out, grabbing them by the collar – metaphorically, not literally, don’t get a restraining order filed against you – and saying, “Look, I figured out what life is about.” You’re making a very bold claim. There’s really not a low-key version of this. You’re saying, “I know God. I didn’t last week, and I do today, and the reason I know God today in a way I didn’t last week is because I placed my faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of my sins.” That’s a bold claim. There’s really not a casual way to do that.
You’re saying, “God is real, God is actually doing something in the world, God has actually come down from heaven to get us, he has not abandoned us, he’s reached out for us, and I experienced it. And I want you to experience it too.” That’s what you’re doing when you’re evangelizing.
So it’s really not a surprise that people frequently have a difficult time accepting what we’re saying. Right? Like, if you evangelize every single day of your life for 50 years, the number of people you get to watch repent and believe the gospel through your evangelism might be in the double digits. That’s it. That’s the norm. I want to prepare you for that. Don’t get discouraged when your experience doesn’t look like those great, hyperinflated expectations that are set by hokey Christian movies where by the end somehow everybody at the secular college has turned away from their sins and started singing, “Hallelujah!” at a Newsboys concert.
People frequently have a difficult time grappling with the claims that you make in the gospel. And yet, as we see in verse 49, even people with a horrifyingly vast chip on their shoulder are ultimately powerless against the conviction that the Spirit brings over you. Look at verse 49. We see Nathaniel. He’s friends with the rest of the disciples. They come to him, they say, “We have found the Messiah.” And Nathaniel’s like, “Really, well, who?” They say, “It’s Jesus, a guy out of Nazareth.”
And immediately a switch flips, and Nathaniel says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
He’s got an excuse for everything, right? If they had said, “Jesus, a guy from Sephoris” – that’s a nearby prosperous town – Nathaniel probably would have said, “Alright, some rich kid from the city? Probably not the Messiah.”
Nazareth? Too poor. Sephoris? Too rich. Judea? Too liberal. Samaria? Too ethnically-diverse. Jerusalem? Way too conservative. You get the picture?
It’s important to recognize that. That’s very much what we are like as humans. There is something in us that is determined to excuse our way out of believing and obeying the gospel, so we will take any potential escape ladder in an effort to talk ourselves into continuing on in our unbelief. That applies to me, that applies to you, that applies to everybody you know. We are very much like machines rigged for unbelief.
And yet even that can’t stand up against the conviction of the Holy Spirit. And so in verse 49, even Nathaniel, who had a pretty masterful set of excuses, ultimately breaks down and says to Jesus, “You are the son of God.” “You are the king of Israel.”
Because Nathaniel’s unbelief was in nothing in the face of the Holy Spirit’s conviction. That’s true about everybody.You can go out into the world, carrying the truth of the gospel to your friends and your neighbors and your family members with boldness, knowing that even the fiercest enemies of the faith are Nathaniels waiting to happen.
So there comes a point where we see Jesus for who he really is, and when that point comes, our resistance to the gospel, no matter how strong it is, just kind of melts away beneath the weight of the Holy Spirit’s good conviction. That’s good news. God will push past your defenses. That’s very good news.
But the flip side of that is true as well. Because what happens when we start to see Jesus for who he really is is that Jesus starts to show us who we really are.
Jesus shows us who we really are. Looking at verse 42, case-in-point, it says, “When Jesus saw Peter, He said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which means “Rock”).”
That’s a strange thing to say to somebody, no matter who you are, right? This is either the first or second time Jesus meets Peter, and instead of saying, “Hey Peter, how you doing?” He says, “You are Simon, son of John. That’s what your dad named you. I’m gonna name you, too. Can I name you? I’m gonna name you.” He says, “You will be called Cephas.” Cephas means rock. “I’m going to call you ‘rock’.”
That is not a normal conversation, right?
But Jesus is doing something very specific here. He’s not just giving Peter a new name. He’s giving him a new identity.
This is the God who spoke in Genesis chapter one, and the universe started existing instead of not existing. Jesus is the God who speaks the world into existence – literally, speaks things into existence. And now, he’s face to face with Simon, son of John, whom we usually refer to as Peter, and he speaks a new name into existence.
And he says, “I know your dad named you Simon, I’ve got a new name for you. You will be called Cephas.”
But what Jesus does here to Peter isn’t fundamentally unique. There is a reason that in some denominations, when someone converts into the faith, they don’t just induct them into their church community, they give them a new name. And sometimes they’re funny. You’ll meet somebody names “Theophilus Jones.” Or “Athanasius Gupton.” During the Colonial Period, there was a famous Puritan minister who changed his name to “PeaceGod Barebone.” Eventually he became a Calvinist and changed his name to Christ-Died-Only-For-The-Elect Barebone.” And those are funny, but they do communicate something very important.
And that is that when you begin to see Jesus for who he really is, Jesus begins to show you who you really are. He gives you a new identity. So much so that your old name might as well be a dead name. So much so that the old you doesn’t really exist anymore. You are a new person. You are not the old you. You have a new identity. You belong Jesus now.
We see very much the same thing in verses 47 and 48. It says, “Then Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him.” This is the same Nathaniel we were talking about earlier. Jesus saw Nathaniel heading in his general direction, and he intercepted him.
And when I say he intercepted him, I mean he intercepted him. He pulled the lever on the train track so the train went a very different direction than it would have gone otherwise.
Our passage says Jesus saw him coming, “And Jesus said, “Here is a true Israelite; There is no deceit in him.” Can you hear the sarcasm in Jesus’s words? “Now that’s a true Israelite, right there! No way that guy’s foolin’ himself!”
Nathaniel’s making his way down the road and Jesus intercepts him, and essentially mocks-him-into-the-Kingdom. He says, “Here is a true Israelite. Everybody, look at this guy. That’s a true Israelite. There is no deceit in him. That guy is definitely not laboring under a bunch of false delusions about himself. Everybody gather round, sit at this guy’s feet. This is somebody to learn from.”
And it’s kind of like Jesus took a Louisville slugger to Nathaniel’s delusions of grandeur. Because Nathaniel just ran into a peasant from Nazareth, a welfare case. Somebody at the bottom of the ladder. A very small fish in an even smaller pond. And the moment Nathaniel lays eyes on him, it clicks. The peasant he was laughing at is the long-promised Messiah. So Nathaniel breaks down, and says, “You are the son of God. You are the king of Israel.”
When Nathaniel woke up that morning, he thought he was one thing. When he went to bed, he knew he was something very different. Nathaniel woke up that morning with a “superiority complex.” He thought that, whatever else was true, he was better than a good deal of the people around him. Then he met the king of Israel. He met the Son of God. He met the long-promised Messiah. And it turned the way he saw himself upside down. Because now Nathaniel isn’t anybody’s “superior.” He’s somebody’s disciple. He’s sitting at the feet of a flat-broke preacher from Galilee’s poorest backwater.
Jesus gave Nathaniel a new identity.
He changes the way Nathaniel answers the question, “Who do you think you are.” That’s another question you should ask yourself this morning. “Who do you think you are?” My guess is that you are somewhere in the neighborhood of Nathaniel. If you’re like me, or Nathaniel, or everybody else who ever lived, there is some identity you’ve claimed for yourself that seems harmless on the outside but is really meant to keep God at arms-length.
Just as a case-in-point: Maybe you think of yourself primarily as a parent. Maybe your kids are grown, they’re reasonably emotionally healthy, they are financially independent, to quote a meme that I saw a while back: You successfully managed to raise kids that somebody else didn’t have to spend years recovering from. You raised a son that some poor girl does not have to spend years recovering from. You raised a daughter at some poor dude doesn’t have to spend years recovering from. And so you find your identity primarily in the fact that you were a good parent.
So when you hear a lot of what I say from the pulpit, maybe you nod along, but inside, you kinda quietly file it under “Things That Don’t Apply To Me.” Right? When I’m talking about the gravity of sin, or when I’m talking about our need for a savior, if you’re really honest with yourself, deep down, you think I’m talking about somebody else.
You think I’m talking about the people you see on the 6:00 o’clock news. Right? You think I’m talking about people who look different than you. Who act different than you. You think I’m talking about people who sin differently than you. Right? Because as far as you’re concerned, you’re one of the Good People. You’re one of the good onesTM.
If you’re totally honest with me, with yourself, with God, you would just come out and say, “God sure is lucky to have me.” And if you really got pressed, or if somebody accused you being just as bad as everybody else, somewhere deep down, your mind would point to your healthy, well-adjusted kids and say, “If I’m so bad, how’d I pull that off?”
That’s just one case-in-point. Your “Nathaniel move” might be something very different. It could be anything. But that just happens to be one that I see a whole lot of.
And so if it were you that was walking down the road and just happened to run into Jesus on that particular day, I wonder what Jesus might have said to you.
To Nathaniel, he said, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no deceit in him.” To you he might have said, “Now here’s the Father of the Year.” “Here’s the mother of the year.” “Our Father in heaven ought to have them over for dinner some night and they can teach him how to parent a little better.” Right?
God the Father – your Father in heaven – God is a perfect Father. Literally. A perfect Father. And yet every single one of his children still rebelled against him so hard that it broke the world.
We rarely think about it that way. But that’s absolutely true. God was the perfect Father, and his children still turned out wayward as all get out. So if you’re one of those people who looks at the behavioral problems that other people’s kids are having and, kinda, turn up your nose at them, the real questions is “Do you think you’re a better parent than God?” Because God was the perfect father, and his children still turned out wayward as all get out.
So Jesus might’ve intercepted you on the road, just like he did Nathaniel, and say, “Our Father in heaven oughtta have them over for dinner some night and they can teach him how to parent better.”
And as he’s talking, your mind will go to all the parents who did exactly what you did.
All the fathers who came home every night from work, got down on the living room floor and played with his kids. All the mothers who followed every step in whatever best-selling parenting book they were given by their mother-in-law at their baby shower. You’ll think of all the parents who did exactly what you did and whose kids are in jail, whose children have never held a marriage together, whose children are four years behind on their taxes, who have kids living on the street who will not come home, whose kids only visit once a year, at the holidays, and who spend the whole time picking at them because they resent them for Nothing In Particular. Your mind goes to all the parents who did exactly what you did and whose kids still hate them.
And suddenly that false identity you’ve built for yourself vanishes. And you realize that you are what Nathaniel is. You’re just somebody doing their best. You are what those other, unsuccessful parents are. You’re just somebody doing your best, even though your best is never quite enough.
But rather than hearing that as bad news to try and block out, you’ll realize that’s the best news you could possibly hear.
Because you’ll realize that it doesn’t matter how Not Enough you are. Because you’re standing in the presence of the Son of God.
You’re standing in the presence of the King of Israel.
And he has given you a new name.
Your name isn’t Not Enough anymore. It isn’t Father of the Year, either. Your new name is “Disciple.” Your new name is “Beloved.” Your new name is “My Child.” Your new name is “Good and Faithful Servant.” Your new name is “Redeemed.”
That’s your new identity. That’s who you are in Christ. That’s what we become when, like Nathaniel, like Peter, like John the Baptist, we let go of all the things we try to use to justify ourselves and throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus instead.
We have arrived at what we usually refer to as the “Altar Call” section of our service. In a moment, we’re going to celebrate something called The Lord’s Supper, in which we rejoice in exactly what we’ve been talking about: We have a new identity in Jesus Christ. We were strangers, but now we are God’s friends. We were enemies at the gates, but now we are family members at his table.
But there’s a possibility that that isn’t true about you. I went years sitting in a church pew refusing to throw myself on the mercy of Jesus because the last thing I wanted was to sit at the Lord’s Table, as the Lord’s friend, because communing with God would mean submitting to him.
If that’s you, I get it. I can’t change your mind about that. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. But we would like to invite you to this morning. We would like to invite you to let go of your rebellion, and throw yourself on the mercy of Jesus to be adopted into God’s family. To be seated at God’s table, in God’s kingdom, as God’s friend. So I will be standing awkwardly at the front, waiting for you. I’d love to walk you through the process of giving yourself to the God we’ve been describing this morning.
If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 19 through 34. It says:
This is John’s testimony when the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?”
20 He did not refuse to answer, but he declared: “I am not the Messiah.”
21 “What then?” they asked him. “Are you Elijah?”
“I am not,” he said.
“Are you the Prophet?”
“No,” he answered.
22 “Who are you, then?” they asked. “We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What can you tell us about yourself?”
23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord—just as Isaiah the prophet said.”
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 So they asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you aren’t the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet?”
26 “I baptize with water,” John answered them. “Someone stands among you, but you don’t know Him. 27 He is the One coming after me, whose sandal strap I’m not worthy to untie.”
28 All this happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the One I told you about: ‘After me comes a man who has surpassed me, because He existed before me.’ 31 I didn’t know Him, but I came baptizing with water so He might be revealed to Israel.”
32 And John testified, “I watched the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He rested on Him. 33 I didn’t know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The One you see the Spirit descending and resting on—He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and testified that He is the Son of God!”
This is the word of the Lord.
Today’s passage is much longer than last week’s, but I think it’s actually much more manageable, at least in the sense that it’s not nearly as likely to give you whiplash. Instead of having a thousand points, like John’s opening passage, this week I have two.
Because there’s really two major things that John is pointing us towards in today’s passage. There’s two major questions that he answers. The first is that he tells us very straightforwardly what God’s mission looks like. The second is that he shows us our own.
So if you’ve ever said, “What is God’s plan?” “What is God doing?” “Why are we still here?” “What is God’s mission in the world?” “Why is anything happening?” John answers that question in our passage today.
And then, if you say, “What’s my role in God’s mission?” “What’s my mission?” “What is our mission as a church?” John answers that question, too, and he answers them “1, 2” back-to-back.
And so let’s take a look together.
Looking at verse 20, we see the priests and Levites asking John the Baptist to tell them plainly, “Are you the Messiah?” And John gives them exactly what they’re asking for. It says, “He did not refuse to answer, but he declared: “I am not the Messiah.”
Now, if you’d never read the Bible before, and you were completely unfamiliar with the Christian faith, you’d have a handful of questions right about now. And the most obvious question to ask would be what is a “Messiah,” and why were the priests and Levites asking John about it? That’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked.
The short answer is that the Messiah is the thing the whole Bible points to. Throughout ancient history, the Israelites looked forward to a day when God would decisively overcome the brokenness of the world and undo all the destruction we brought about when we rebelled in the garden. The Messiah is the name that they used to refer to the person that God would use to bring all of this about.
That’s the short answer. I’m also gonna give you the long answer. Because to fully understand how significant this exchange between John the Baptist and the priests and Levites is, you need to understand what would’ve been rattling around in their brains while they debated out in the wilderness.
When John said, “I am not the Messiah,” here’s what he was talking about. If you’ll turn in your Bibles to Genesis 3:15, you’ll find God making a very strange statement. Adam and Eve have just plunged all of creation into sin and darkness – you know the story, with the talking snake, and the forbidden fruit.
We use this story, a lot of times, to explain to children why God would ever be mad at us, why he would punish us if he’s so loving, and so on and so forth, and that’s exactly right. But that’s not actually the main point of the Garden of Eden story.
It is absolutely true that God punishes sin. It is absolutely true that apart from Jesus Christ we are under the just wrath of a righteous God. But as you read through the Adam and Eve story, what you’ll notice is that the story itself is primarily about how we broke the world.
God is not a petulant child. The issue here is not that we ate a fruit and it upset God. The issue here is that we rebelled against God’s Godness, and rebelling against the God of the universe broke the universe.
I doubt I have to convince you of that. The world is broken. It doesn’t work properly. The universe doesn’t have a flat tire. It has a carbon monoxide leak, right? And the result is that everything is more miserable than it ought to be.
Work is hard rather than joyous. Childbirth is painful rather than life-giving. People are predatory. Even nature is trying to kill us. If you get nothing else from the Adam and Eve story, you should walk away understanding that the world, as it is, does not work the way God designed it to work.
And into the middle of all of this, God turns to the serpent – the creature who talked Adam and Eve into breaking the world by rebelling against the Lord – and he says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman’s seed, you will strike his heel and he will crush your head.”
Now, there’s a lot of debate over exactly how we should interpret that, but throughout the last 2000 years there’s been at least one point of agreement across the whole world and by all Christians, and that is that this is the first “Messianic prophecy.”
God is promising that one day, a descendent of Eve will come to crush the serpent and everything it stands for.
In the Ancient Near East, the image of a “serpent” was often a stand in for all the forces of chaos and darkness and evil. To be a serpent was to be a predator. To be a serpent was to devour the innocent. But God promises that one day, he will send someone who will crush the serpent once and for all. A “Messiah” will come who will crush the forces of darkness that we let in when we rebelled. The Messiah will come and un-break the world.
That is God’s mission. That is the mission of God. And when the Priests and Levites ask John the Baptist if he is the Messiah, they’re talking about this.
But there’s more. Because from Genesis 3:15 onward, the Messianic prophecies just keep rolling in. Between that last sentence and this one, I hacked about 15 minutes worth of me just listing out major Messianic prophecies, because I’m not supposed to preach 90 minute sermons, so, you’re welcome, and please turn with me to the book of Isaiah, where God starts turning the heat up with each new prophecy:
We all probably remember that one very famous prophecy from Isaiah, where God says that a day will come when “A virgin shall conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel” – that’s Isaiah 7:14. So far, so familiar, right?
But God turns the heat up even more just two chapters later in Isaiah 9 and says:
“A child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this.”
That is God’s mission. That is the mission of God. And when the Priests and Levites ask John the Baptist if he is the Messiah, they’re talking about this.
But that creates a bit of a problem. If all you had were those passage I just read, it’d be incredibly easy to get the wrong idea about just what kind of Messiah to look forward to. So in case you get the wrong idea from chapter 9, Isaiah goes on in chapters 52 and 53. He says, in Isaiah 52 and 53, that the Messiah, who will reign forever, whose kingdom will see no end, is also a “Suffering servant.”
Isaiah says that the Messiah who is to come will not simply conquer the darkness of the world with his strong hand, he will also bear our griefs. He will carry our sorrows. He will be wounded for our transgressions. He will be bruised for our iniquities. He will be chastised for our peace. He will heal us by his stripes. He will be oppressed and afflicted. He will be struck for our transgressions./
Those are not things you would expect God to say about the Messiah, are they? But it gets worse.
Isaiah goes on to say that the promised-one will be bruised by the Lord. The Messiah will be punished by the Lord. That doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Because the Messiah is supposed to purge the world of the darkness we created. If there is anybody on planet earth God wouldn’t punish, it’s this guy. Right? But Isaiah says that the Messiah will be “bruised by the Lord.”
He tells us in the second line of that verse: God will punish the promised-one, because the promised-one is a “sin offering,” that’s Isaiah 53:10. The Messiah will be given as a “sin-offering.” If you don’t remember from the Old Testament, a “sin offering” exactly what it sounds like: It’s a sacrificial animal that you bring to the priest. The priest kills the animal as an offering to the Lord for your sin.
And Isaiah says that the Messiah, who’s supposed to come and purge the world of darkness and fix all of our brokenness, will be a “sin-offering” for us. Why is God punishing the Messiah? Because he’s punishing him instead of us.
Whether they fully understood it or not, when the Priests and Levites ask John the Baptist if he’s the Messiah, they’re talking about this.
And John the Baptist says, “No.” John the Baptist is not the Messiah. But he says, “Somebody in the crowd with you is.” It says in verse 29 that, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” In other words, “If you’re looking for the Messiah, I can tell you exactly where he is.” If you go looking for the Messiah in the Wilderness, the prophet in the wilderness is gonna point you to Jesus.
But that creates a different question. Looking at verses 22-23, the Priests and Levites ask, “Who are you, then? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What can you tell us about yourself?” And John says “I am a voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord—just as Isaiah the prophet said.” In other words, “I am not the Messiah, but I’m here to point you towards him.”
It’s hard to imagine John the Baptist being any clearer than that: God’s mission is to rescue us from our “fallenness.” To reconcile us to himself. And to un-break the world we wrecked. And towards that end Jesus is “the Lamb of God” – the sacrificial “Lamb of God” – who “takes away the sins of the world,” as our “sin offering.”
That’s God’s mission.
And our mission is to point people towards him.
That’s the whole thing. We have roughly the same job as John the Baptist. We are “a voice crying out in the wilderness,” calling people to “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
That’s why, after God raises Jesus from the dead, Matthew’s gospel shows us interesting scene, in chapter 28. He says:
“The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This is what we call the “Great Commission.” Jesus commissions us to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” He commissions us to “Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” And he commissions us to “Teach them to observe everything that Christ has commanded us.”
That is very much God’s “game plan” for the rest of our lives. We personally make disciples. We personally baptize them. We personally make it our business to teach them to obey everything that Christ has commanded us.
I’m gonna restate those sentences one last time, but this time with slightly different wording just to make absolutely sure it sinks in: Your “Great Commission” – God’s Great Commission for you, is that you would “make disciples of all nations,” that you would ‘Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and that you would “teach them to obey everything Christ has commanded us.”
If you’ve been prayerfully seeking out God’s will for your life, Matthew 28 just answered it. God’s will for your life is that you will take up the Great Commission in your community.
But, I want to keep pressing, here. I want to be even more painfully specific:
Our mission is not to grow up, go to college, get a good job, start a family, move into a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, and then live happily ever after – even though all of those things are good. I’m not knocking that lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with any of that.
My point is not that you shouldn’t go to college, get a good job, start a family, move into a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, and live happily ever after. My point is that that is not your mission. Listen to me: Our mission is to make disciples, and the rest of the choices that we make about our lifestyle flow out of that mission.
Now, let me be extremely clear about what I do not mean when I say that.
I do not mean that you need to drop out of school, or quit your job, sign up for classes at southeastern, and pursue a calling in professional ministry. That is not for everybody. Not everybody is obligated to do that. You do not need to sell your house and go move to Khazakhstan and live as a foreign missionary. You don’t need to pull a Rich Young Ruler and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, although you’re certainly welcome to do that.
We were talking just this past Tuesday at our Tuesday morning Bible study about the way that the culture of the United States has really kind of skewed our understanding of God’s will for our lives over the last couple hundred years.
For a very long time, American Christians have, kind of, idolized pastoral ministry. Can I say that? Is that okay? We’ve made it into something that it really isn’t. To put it very plainly, we have overhyped preaching. We have overhyped preachers. Me have overhyped mass evangelists, think Billy Graham. I’m not trashin’ Billy Graham. Billy Graham agrees with me.
It seems very much that most of the people walking around today think that there’s really two “classes” of people. Most people seem to think that there’s “professional ministers”/“professional evangelists”/“professional missionaries” on the one hand, and then there’s “normal folks” on the other. And people think that the “professionals” are responsible for winning people to Christ, making disciples, changing the culture of our communities by finding lost sheep and bringing them back into the fold but that the only real job that all the regular, everyday, normal Christians have is funding it. Right? They think “It’s the pastor’s job to make disciples, it’s our job to shut up and tithe.” You know I’m talking about?
My grandma told me a story one time where she was at her friend’s church, back when she was a kid, and the pastor literally said, “You don’t read the Bible. I read the Bible. And I’ll tell you what it says.” Literally. That’s a very extreme case, right? You don’t see a whole lot of that, most of the time, thank God. But that is very much just an extension of the way people already kind of see this. They think “The professional Christians are responsible for making disciples. Our responsibility is funding it.” “They spread the gospel, we shut up and tithe.”
But that’s the opposite of what the Bible tells us. Looking back at our text, we see John the Baptist addressing the crowd, saying “I watched the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He rested on Jesus.” And that’s when he knew that he was looking at the Messiah.
But then John the Baptist throws us a curveball. He says that while he watched the Spirit descending on Jesus, God spoke to him, saying, “The One you see the Spirit descending and resting on—He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’.”
The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus, and then moves Jesus to begin his ministry, but Jesus does not carry out his ministry alone. John says, “He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Remember, in the book of Matthew, we saw John saying, “I baptize you with water, but someone is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
What does that mean?
It means that when Jesus calls us to come follow him, he also gives us that same Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who descended on Jesus descends on us.
Because Jesus has invited us to come along and make disciples with him.
I’m gonna restate that just to make sure this sinks in. Jesus has invited you to come along and make disciples with him. Like John the Baptist, we are not the Messiah, but we point people towards him.
And I’m gonna restate this yet again, one more time,just to make absolutely sure we’re tracking: The ministry we see Jesus carrying out in Galilee in the Gospels never actually ended.
The ministry of Jesus in the world never actually ended. It’s still going. The ministry of Jesus is still happening all throughout the world. That’s why the book of Acts comes directly after the four gospels. Because the book of Acts is not a book about the great things the disciples did after Jesus left. It’s about the continuing ministry of Jesus, as Jesus ministers in the world through his people. The ministry of Jesus is still happening all throughout the world. The only difference is that today, Jesus is at the right hand of the Father in heaven, ministering here through you.
Because you’ve been baptized with the Holy Spirit, and Jesus continues carrying out his mission in the world through you. And so Jesus said:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
That’s God’s “Great Commission” to you.
So over the next few minutes, I’m going to stand at the front. If you’ve felt God calling you to make disciples in your community for years but you’ve always ignored the call, you’re welcome to come up to the front, we can pray together, or you can pray privately on the steps.
Or, maybe you’re on the other end of this. Maybe you’ve been in church for years, or you’re fairly new to this, and you’ve always thought of yourself as religious but it’s never really occurred to you that you need to be forgiven of your sins. You’ve always thought of Jesus as somebody you admired, but it’s never really occurred to you that you need to submit to him as your King. If that’s you, I would love to pray with you and walk you through the process of throwing yourself at his mercy for the forgiveness of your sins.
If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verse 1 through 18. John says:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created.
4 Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.
5 That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man named John
who was sent from God.
7 He came as a witness
to testify about the light,
so that all might believe through him.
8 He was not the light,
but he came to testify about the light.
9 The true light, who gives light to everyone,
was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world,
and the world was created through Him,
yet the world did not recognize Him.
11 He came to His own,
and His own people did not receive Him.
12 But to all who did receive Him,
He gave them the right to be children of God,
to those who believe in His name,
13 who were born,
not of blood,
or of the will of the flesh,
or of the will of man,
but of God.
14 The Word became flesh
and took up residence among us.
We observed His glory,
the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father,
full of grace and truth.
15 (John testified concerning Him and exclaimed,
“This was the One of whom I said,
‘The One coming after me has surpassed me,
because He existed before me.’”)
16 Indeed, we have all received grace after grace
from His fullness,
17 for the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
18 No one has ever seen God.
The One and Only Son—
the One who is at the Father’s side—
He has revealed Him.
This is the word of the Lord.
As you probably noticed a moment ago, there’s no version of this where I can fit this passage into a standard Southern Baptist Three Point Sermon outline. In a perfect world, I would love to walk through this line by line one verse at a time, wringing every bit of meaning out of every single sentence John gives us, but if I did that, your grandchildren’s grandchildren would have grandchildren of their own by the time we finished. So we’re gonna look through John’s prologue, here, at kind of a dead sprint, instead, and let it frame the rest of what we learn as we learn from John’s gospel over the next several months.
Now, the upside of going through John’s gospel is that it’s beautiful. The downside is that it’s weird. John is going to show us things that confuse us, often they’ll shock us, and sometimes they’ll even upset us, and yet. John has given us, kind of, the key to understand why he’s showing us what he shows us, right here in this opening prologue, so as we walk through today’s passage, and as we walk through John’s gospel as a whole, over the next several months, we’re gonna come back, again and again, and again, to verse 18. Looking with me at chapter one, verse 18, John says:
“No one has ever seen God.
But the One and Only Son—
the One who is at the Father’s side—
He has revealed Him.”
“No one has ever seen God, but Jesus has revealed him.” Jesus is the one who reveals God to us. Jesus reveals what God is like. Jesus shows us what God values, what God cares for. When we look at Jesus, what we’re seeing is God.
“No one has ever seen God. But the One and Only Son—the One who is at the Father’s side—He has revealed Him.” What we’re about to do is spend the next several months looking directly at God, as clearly as he has ever revealed himself to us, so that we can know him, and cherish him, and cling to him as tightly as we’ve ever clinged to anything.
So, getting started, the first thing John tells us about Jesus is that Jesus is our Creator. Maybe that sounds like I’m pointing out the obvious, but that’s a serious claim. Quite a bit of what we learn about Jesus throughout the gospels could be taken in a whole range of ways. But this is different. If Jesus is who John describes him as, then Jesus is our Creator. There’s a pretty limited range of ways that you can interpret that.
He says in verses 2-3, that “He was with God in the beginning,” which is already saying a lot. Because notice what he does not say, here. He doesn’t say what you’d expect him to say: He does not say that he was “created by God in the beginning.”
He says that Jesus was with God in the beginning. And if Jesus was with God in the very beginning, then Jesus had no beginning. Jesus never started existing. There was never a time where Jesus did not exist, alongside his Father and Spirit. Jesus has never not been, period.
And John goes on to say, “All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.” So not only has Jesus never not existed, but you were created through him. That’s the first thing to understand about Jesus: He created you.
Now, here’s the thing, though. That means more than you think it means. You might be sitting in the pews, thinking, “Obviously Jesus created me.” Right? You might be thinking, “Everybody knows that, do you have a point?” And the answer is, yes, I do.
Because the point here is not just that Jesus made you way back in the dawn of man so you should stop once a day and have a moment of silence and remember that you didn’t make yourself, or something like that, even though that’s not a bad idea. The point is that you are already in a relationship with Jesus.
The fact that you were created through Jesus means that you already have a relationship with Jesus. The only question is what kind of relationship you have. It’s common to come to church, sit down, and listen to an encouraging talk where the pastor brings things to a halt at the end, gets really puffy eyed, and then begs you, and I quote, to “Let God Into Your LifeTM.” You know what I’m talking about?
I will not be doing that. Don’t get me wrong, there will be an altar call. I will stand awkwardly at the front waiting for you. But I will not be asking you to maybe if you’re up for it think about considering whether you might perhaps if it suits you want to “Let God Into Your Life,” because that’s not actually an option that you have.
You have zero choice about whether or not you “Let God Into Your Life.”
Because God let himself into your life when he created you.
He’s there. Jesus is in your life. Jesus has never not been in your life. Jesus let himself into your life when he created you and you have absolutely no way of kicking him out of your life or keeping him at arms length or sectioning him off into a small cubicle that you drop by in on Sundays now and then. You do not decide whether Jesus is allowed in your life, Jesus created you in the beginning and he’s been there, in your life, since day one.
In other words, Jesus owns you.
There’s a sense in which Mount Zion kinda pranked itself: When you hired a young guy, you probably thought that you were getting not a Fundamentalist. Right?
But if I haven’t scared you off already, I’d like to make the case that everything I’ve just told you is good news, not bad news.
Because listen to the way that John describes the God who owns you: He says, in verses 4-5, “Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men.” That’s very abstract, that takes some “decoding,” but think about what that means. Jesus is the “light” of men. He is the “light” within you. Jesus is what pushes back the darkness.
Often, when the Bible talks about “darkness,” it’s not just talking about the sort of darkness you see when you turn out the lights. It’s talking about the sort of darkness that you recognize when you’re lost in the woods and the sun’s gone down. It’s the sort of darkness that you recognize when you’ve moved into a run-down apartment and you’re lying in your bed and you can hear the cockroaches crawling around the walls and the ceilings of the room, knowing that they’re not gonna scatter till you flip the lightswitch back on. It’s a sinister darkness. It’s a chaotic darkness. It’s the sort of darkness that hides terrible things you’d rather not see or know about or come face to face with.
John says “That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.” Jesus is that light, who shines in this darkness, and will not be overcome by it. That’s how John describes the God who owns you. That’s good news.
But you might get nervous, you might break into a cold sweat, when you hear that there’s somebody out there who owns you body and your soul and your everything. Right? That makes sense. That’s the right response, up front. Because if you’re a human being who lives on planet earth then your personal relationships have probably been mostly defined by darkness, right? We let each other down, constantly. Sometimes we betray each other.
To use an example that’s very close to home: Over the last couple of weeks, watching people react to the impeachment proceedings on social media, I watched people who’ve known each other for twenty years break off their relationships, sometimes even family relationships, in the comment section of a Facebook post, I’ve watched people threaten each other with violence because they were on two different sides of whether the president should be removed from office – If I’m accidentally describing you right now, take this as an open rebuke: You need to get a grip, grow up, and go apologize to your family members, regardless of which side of the debate you were on. There is a profound darkness that wraps itself around our thoughts and desires and intentions and poisons the way that we treat each other, and that’s true both inside and outside of the Church.
If you are a human being who lives on planet earth, your thoughts and assumptions and expectations about God have probably been pre-poisoned by the sheer darkness that has always overcome us and turned our relationships with our friends and parents and spouses and children toxic. And yet, John says that this Jesus is the true Light that has come into the world and that the darkness cannot overcome.
Jesus does not have your vices. God is not petty like you and I are petty. Christ does not share your insecurities and your childishness and your cruelty and your selfishness and your cold disregard for the needs of others – because these things are darkness. There is no darkness in Christ. Church, this is who you want owning you.
That’s a weird thought. Christ is the person that you want for a master. Because either Christ owns you or you own you. Either Christ is your God or you are your god, and you are not a merciful god. Right? Can we level with ourselves, here? You are not a loving god. You’re a cruel god. You’re a petty and unforgiving god. Like, look, I’m regularly confronted with the fact that it would be far better for there to be no god than for me to be the god of the universe, because I am a terrible god. I am a terrible master. I am not fit to be my own master. You do not want to own yourself.
And so John has very good news for us, and that is that the “True Light” – who “gives light to men,” and “cannot be overcome by the darkness” – this Light owns us. We belong to the Light of the world. And when you belong to the Light of the world, you’re in very good hands.
Church, Christ owns you, and that is the best news you’ll hear today.
But if you were Today Years Old when you learned the Jesus literally owns you, then your next question is probably “Okay, what does he want from me?” And that’s a good question, thank you for asking. I’ll tell you what he doesn’t want. Because God is not amassing a “Fan Club.” God’s not gathering up sycophants. Here’s what Christ actually wants from you:
Through the prophet Micah, God says, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” There is a God who owns you, and that’s what he wants from you.
On a different occasion, the people of Israel said, essentially, “What do you want from us?” And God responded in Isaiah 58 by saying, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?” There is a God who owns you, and that’s what he wants from you.
Through the prophet Hosea, a similar thing plays out. God’s people turned the whole thing into a bizarre carnival act, they would make sacrifice after sacrifice, because they thought it would appease God. They thought they could live, essentially, however they wanted, and that God would look past their terribleness so long as they paid lip-service to him. They thought God was a narcissist, so he’d accept them so long as the gifts kept coming. But in Hosea 6:6, he says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” I don’t want your gifts. I want your goodness.
That’s what the Christ who owns you actually wants from you. Because God is light, and he wants your light to shine the way his light shines. He wants your godliness to reflect his goodness. He wants every human being on planet earth to be an extension of the goodness, the beauty, the peace that God created us for. That’s what God wants from you. Not your money. Not your fame. Not your talents. Not your greatness. Not your power. Not your defense. God does not need anything from you. But he does want something from you.And the something that he wants from you is your goodness.
But this is where the good news about God becomes the bad news about you.
In the third chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul goes into, kind of, a famous rant about how everybody’s terrible. It’s basically a Rodney Dangerfield stand-up act. And at the height of his rant, he says:
“Are we any better? Not at all!”
He’s listing off the sins of the Gentile peoples of the world, and anybody in the audience might’ve been nodding along, or clapping, the way you might if I stepped up to the pulpit and just started tearing into whichever group of people you obsessively blame for ruining your country, or your neighborhood, or your anything. And right as the folks Paul’s talking to get to their absolute rowdiest, Paul cuts them off and says, “I don’t know why you’re clapping. I’m talking about you.”
Imagine being in the audience for that. Paul goes on and says:
“For we have previously charged that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, 10 as it is written:
There is no one righteous, not even one.
11 There is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away;
all alike have become useless.
There is no one who does what is good,
not even one.
13 Their throat is an open grave;
they deceive with their tongues.
Vipers’ venom is under their lips.
14 Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and wretchedness are in their paths,
17 and the path of peace they have not known.
18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
In case you missed it, that’s everybody. Paul’s talking about everybody. Paul’s talking about you. The good news about God is the bad news about you. That’s why in Isaiah 24:5, the Lord speaks through the prophet and says “[The earth is] polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant.” He’s not mincing any words, here.
But it gets even worse because, as you would expect, the God we’ve been describing, this morning, has the right response to our bad-ness. In Joshua 23:16, he says that because of these things, “The Lord’s anger will burn against you.”
If that shocks you, it should. Like we’ve said before, God is love. That’s not a touchy-feely liberal sentiment, that’s literally the Bible. That’s 1 John, chapter 4, verse 8. God is love, and John says that because God is love, there’s a word for people who do not love their neighbors, and that word is liar. People who do not love their neighbors do not know God, period. Sin always boils down to rejecting God’s call to love your neighbor, and rejecting God’s call to love your neighbor causes God’s righteous anger to burn against you. That doesn’t contradict the fact that God is love. That’s true because God is love. The good news about God becomes the bad news about us.
So Ephesians 2 says that we become “Children under wrath.” 2 Peter 2:14 says the same thing in different language, it says we’re “Children of the curse.” In Hosea 1:9 God says in no uncertain terms, “You are not my people and I am not your God.” That is our natural state. That is what we grow into when we’re left to our own devices.
And yet. As John puts in, that is not the end of the story. He says, in verse 12 that “To all who received Jesus, He gave them the right to be children of God.” That’s you. How do you become a child of God again? Receive Jesus.
You know how receive things? You just do. Right? You send me a postcard, the only way to not receive it is to reject it. Literally. If I do not “Return To Sender,” then I’ve received your postcard. That’s how you become a “Child of God” again. You receive Jesus.
You bring nothing to it. You don’t redeem yourself. You don’t earn a second chance. You throw yourself on his mercy. That’s the whole thing.
As a, kind of, grim word of warning. If you receive Jesus, he will spend the rest of forever driving you to right every wrong that used to define your life.
Because righting the wrongs that used to define your life is what you do as a member of God’s family. But you become a family member by receiving Jesus. That’s the whole thing. As Paul says in Ephesians 2, the beginning, middle, and end of our salvation is “by grace, through faith.” God saves us because of his great mercy. And if you would like to receive that great mercy, all you do is ask.
And that’s what we’d like to invite you to do, this morning. Like I said, I am not gonna beg you to maybe think about letting God into your life, because that’s not an option that you have. But what I am gonna do is offer to walk you through the process of throwing yourself on the mercy of this God.
So as the music plays in just a moment, I’ll be standing at the front, waiting for you to come talk to me.