The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

You Talkin’ to Me?

Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” – John 4:9


“You talkin’ to me?” is not a phrase uncommon to the urban world. We’re not “talkin’” about a polite inquiry here. We’re talking about a phrase of indignation. It’s a phrase that can invite violence. It’s a phrase that puts up a barrier; it announces someone has crossed the line; the imaginary boundary that protects personal space. One way or the other, it’s a phrase of clarification. It brings a conversation into focus and identifies the parties speaking. When you read a message like this, hear a sermon or someone tries to engage you in a conversation concerning the things of God maybe you say or think, “You talkin’ to me?” Is that for me? If you aren’t walking with the Lord, Jesus is talkin’ to you. Are you listening?

We see a version of “You talkin’ to me?” in a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman in John 4. Jesus purposely went into a Jewish no travel zone known as Samaria.  The account states, “But He needed to go through Samaria” (John 4:1-6a). Jesus had a divine appointment to keep.


“Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well.”  (John 4:6b). Jesus was “wearied.” Jesus was hungry (Mat. 4:2; 21:18; Luke 4:2). Jesus needed sleep (Mat. 8:24; Mk. 4:38; Luke 8:23). Jesus, God in the flesh, willingly became a weak human. In Hebrews it states, “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17; cf. also Phil. 2:5-8). Jesus is merciful. He gave His life to satisfy justice and pay off our deserved death penalty. Jesus, the God of the universe, allowed Himself to be put in a situation where He would be wearied. That’s incredible grace. Why did He do it? Because He wanted us to know and see that He knows and sees us right where we live. Jesus is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus knows how weak we are. He empathizes with us and knows us. He became one of us, without sin. He shows us the way of holiness. He made Himself accessable and knowable, at great cost; death. That’s how much He loves us.  


“It was about the sixth hour. 7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. (John 4:6c-7a). Normally women would come to the well to draw water early in the morning. It was better to draw the heavy water in the cool of the morning than in the blisteringly hot day sun. This woman drew water at “the sixth hour” or around noon. Why did she come at noon to draw water? She was probably trying to avoid meeting other woman or really anyone at the well. Later we will learn that this woman was living in sin. She’s an outcast and probably ashamed or at least shunned by other women in her community.


It continues, “Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink. . . .” (John 4:7b). Why didn’t Jesus offer to draw water for this woman? Wouldn’t that be the polite thing for Him to do? Was He too shunning her? No, I don’t think so. There’s an important reason Jesus asked this woman for some water. A viable way to enter into a witnessing conversation is not always to do something for someone else. Another way of reaching people is to humbly ask them for help. Allowing people to invest in you or help you is a good way to reach them. That’s what Jesus did here. Sometimes we need to receive first before we can give the gospel.


Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” (John 4:9). These words of the woman seem a bit indignant. Or maybe she is simply surprised. Personally, I sense a bit of defiance; defensiveness in the woman’s words. This is her, “You talkin/ to me?” It was very unusual for a Jewish man to even speak with a woman let alone a Samaritan woman.


Jews and Samaritans were at odds with one another historically. Samaritans were the product of Jews who compromised and broke God’s law intermarrying with gentile Assyrians (cf. Ec. 34:10-16; Deut. 7:3-4). Jews looked down on Samaritans as an unwanted presence in what Jews saw as their land. We have a similar situation today with the illegal immigration situation (though Samaritans were not illegally in the land.)


Women were looked down on by men in this culture. A rabbi would not talk to women in public; not even their own wives at times. She was a hated Samaritan, a half-breed product of traitorous Jews who had intermarried with foreign pagan Assyrians. She was unredeemable as far as many religious people were concerned. But she was not unredeemable to Jesus.



Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (John 4:10). Jesus now turns the conversation to the spiritual realm. Jesus says, “If you knew. . .” This implies the woman is missing out on something. Jesus is perking her interest; drawing her more deeply into conversation. We might say when giving out a track, “Did you get one of these?” That perks a person’s interest to receive a track.


Jesus continues, “If you knew the gift of God. . .” Jesus is presenting grace to her. We will soon see as the conversation develops that this is a woman in dire need of God’s grace. Her life is in shambles and she needs the touch of God. Speaking of a “gift,” something offered freely, would perk the woman’s interest further. Something was offered for free that she hadn’t yet received. Everyone wants something that’s “free.” When we give a tract and say, “Did you get one of these?” we are implying something of worth is offered and it is offered “for free.” That’s something the person we are witnessing to should not miss out on.


Jesus perks this woman’s interest even further by saying, “and who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, . . .” Who was this Man speaking with her? Apparently He was no ordinary Man. He was speaking to her. Jesus is Someone special and worth knowing further. It’s always good to speak to people about Jesus and whether or not they know Him.


Jesus says if this woman knew who Jesus was she would have known to ask Him for water, “and He would have given you living water.” “Living water,” is fresh water as opposed to stagnant water from a well. It is water that is the best. It is water from a running river that is clear and cool and most refreshing. It’s good to offer people something they need to draw them into conversation. Then hopefully it will lead to meeting their greatest need; receiving Jesus as personal Savior.


“The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water?” (John 4:11). Notice the respectful way this woman speaks to “Sir” Jesus. Jesus has earned her respect. Jesus has perked her interest in speaking of “the gift of God” and “living water.” She was an observant woman noticing Jesus had no bucket with which to draw water out of the well. She may have been implying that Jesus, who was thirsty, was unprepared to meet His own needs. She is parrying with Jesus. But Jesus’ has successfully drawn this woman to inquire further into what He was talking about. Jesus was a Master of conversation. We should be too.


This woman was interested in the “living water.” “Where then do You get that living water?” He doesn’t have the equipment to draw water from Jacob’s well. She wants living water if she can get it. Something didn’t add up. Maybe she is beginning to think, Maybe this Man is speaking of something more than regular water.


“Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” (John 4:12). The woman pushes back again. She asserts the heritage of Jacob for herself. Jews would normally deny this. The woman is taking a stand. She isn’t going to back down from Jesus. Her response is a little bit of “who are you to speak to me about ‘living water’?” It’s more, “You talkin’ to me?” But Jesus is leading her from the material realm to the spiritual. It’s not uncommon when witnessing to someone to have them react with a bit of push back. Notice, Jesus isn’t put off by her statement. We shouldn’t be either.


“Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again,(John 4:13).  Jesus points out the limitations of what this woman has been initially seeking. Jesus is offering something more important than what the woman has come to the well to get. Natural water quenches a temporary physical thirst. Drink water from Jacob’s well and you “will thirst again.” You’ll never find true and lasting fulfillment in the natural world. There are more important things to do than live to fulfill your temporal physical needs. Life is more than living to fulfill material needs. That will not fulfill you. It will not last. You’ll just thirst for more. That is the message of Jesus. Why is this true? Jesus goes on to tell us.


Jesus continues, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14). Notice Jesus says what He is offering is available for, “whoever.” Just as in His conversation with Nicodemus (John 3) Jesus again asserts the accessibility and availability to all of what He is offering. The living water Jesus offers is for whoever will take and drink it. Are you an outcast, a social pariah? Are you shamed and shunned? Are you living in sin? Are you thirsty for more in life? Your thirst isn’t quenchable with anything form this world. You need Jesus’ living water. And aren’t you glad God offers all of us this living water? Thank You Lord for Your gracious generosity!


Jesus is the One who gives this water. He says, “the water that I shall give him.” Jesus is the Source of living water. Jesus is the One who gives. You have to ask Jesus for this water. When we see the word “give” here, we should see grace. This woman didn’t go seeking Jesus. Jesus purposely went into Samaria for this divine appointment. When this woman awoke that day she had no idea she would meet this Stranger and enter into a conversation with Him. Jesus was seeking her out. God seeks us out. That is grace.


It’s always good to point out to people you witness to that the conversation you are having with them is not an accident. You conversation with them is a God incident; a divine appointment. The Lord is seeking them out by various circumstances in life. They should be asking, “Why me? Why are you having this conversation with me?” The answer is that Jesus is seeking them out because He cares for and loves them. The answer is because Jesus has something of eternal worth He wants to share with them. This is the grace that goes before; prevenient grace; God in Christ reaching out to a lost world. Right now, your reading this teaching is an example of God’s prevenient grace and His love for you.


Jesus emphasizes the value of what He is offering. The water Jesus is offering quenches an eternal thirst. God creates humanity with “eternity in their hearts” (Eccl. 3:8). We are created with a yearning thirst for God. It’s true; every human really does have a God shaped hole in their heart that only He can fill. A personal saving relationship with God in Christ is the only way to satisfy our thirst for eternal fulfillment.


The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” (John 4:15). The woman wants the living water Jesus is offering. Jesus has gotten this woman’s interest. Jesus has entered into a patient and measured conversation. She is seeking more. She understands what Jesus is saying. She understands what He is offering has permanent value, eternal value. Jesus will reel in this human fish. But she still sees in terms of alleviating some of her work (“nor come here to draw.”) She is not adequately positioned to receive Jesus’ living water yet. There is one more step this woman has to take before she can experience the living water Jesus is talking about.


Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” (John 4:16-18). There is no genuine conversion without conviction of sin. This is so important. There is no true conversion without repentance. There is an aberrant teaching that presents the gospel as mere belief in Jesus. That sounds good but it is not the gospel. Demons “believe” and shudder with condemnation and fear of their eternal destiny awaiting them (James 2:19). When we look at the gospels we see numerous occasions where demons addressed Jesus and knew who He was (e.g. Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34), but demons are not saved! Demons may know Jesus, but they certainly haven’t repented of their sin. Is your faith demonic? Demonic faith is a mere assent or statement of fact without heart repentance.


Five terminated marriages. Think of the brokenness involved with that. Think of the sorrow, the disappointment. Maybe her husbands died. Maybe they divorced her. Maybe it was a combination of both. There was pain there, failure there. Jesus pointed out and opened the wounds. That’s the only way healing can come. This woman was thirsty. Jesus was going to help her quench her thirst. Jesus gently but firmly speaks reality and truth to this woman. He affirms that the woman has spoken honestly in admitting she has no husband. The truth of God always brings conviction to the sinner. Jesus speaks the truth in love. We should too (e.g. Eph. 4:15). Jesus uses the Law to bring conviction of sin to this woman. We should too. The Law of God is like a tutor that convicts the sinner of their sin and points them to the cross for redemption (Romans 7:7; Gal. 3:24). The Law is to expose sin and help the sinner see their sinfulness (1Tim. 1:8-11). Here the portion of the Law Jesus uses is the seventh commandment prohibiting adultery (Exodus 20:14). And she is living with but not married to a man; that’s fornication (Eph. 5:3-7). This woman is living in sin. She must realize her sinfulness and repent of it and trust Jesus as her Savior.

Are you thirsty for more? Are you broken? Jesus has water that will mend your broken heart and quench your thirst forevermore. And He offers this living water to whoever would turn from their sin and trust in Him as Savior. Thirsty? “You talkin’ to me?” Yes, Jesus is talkin’ to you who are thirsty. Come drink from the streams of life He provides.



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What You “Must” Do to be Truly Great

“He must increase, but I must decrease”- John 3:30


“I am the greatest!” That’s what Muhammed Ali proclaimed over and over again in February of 1964 leading up to his pivotal bout with then champion Sonny Liston. This was no small prediction. Liston was “The Big Bear,” a ferocious and huge man. He had been arrested and did prison time for armed robbery. He had beaten the skilled Floyd Patterson two years before. He was a tough and intimidating figure. Liston had a way of looking at his opponents that reduced most of them to weak kneed jelly. Liston was a seven to one favorite going into the fight. Ali was still a young man seen as petulant and boisterous by most.

The sixties were a time of racial tension. Bigotry was more blatant than in our day. There was a good number of fight fans who were looking forward to seeing this young fast talking lyrical “loud mouth” “uppity” black man cut down to size by Liston. Two black men were fighting. At least one would lose. To these people Ali was a villain.

To others Ali was a heroic symbol. His poetic way of denigrating his opponents was the genesis of prefight trash talk. He was a master of verbal fencing. He unsettled his opponents and drew blood with his words. But he was also a symbol of racial equality. And he would become a symbol of defiance to what many at that time felt was a government perpetrating an unjust and unnecessary war. He was a focal point of the peace movement. Ali resisted being drafted in the army by claiming he was a conscientious objector. He was convicted of draft evasion. While he didn’t serve any prison time he was stripped of his champion’s belt. In 1970 after three years of appeals he was deemed as fulfilling the requirements of a conscientious objector by the Supreme Court and allowed to resume his fighting career.

Ali ended his fame producing “I am the greatest” speech by adding, “He’ll fall in eight to prove I’m great. If he keeps talkin’ jive, I’m going to cut it to five.” Ali was known for floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. Ali beat the odds and won that fight decisively. Liston was no match for the young fast as lightening and surprisingly powerful taunter. Ali was champion. He backed up his talk. He was as he would often say thereafter, “the greatest of all time!”

Ali was a controversial figure. Once known as Cassius Clay he announced shortly after his fight with Liston that he had converted to Islam changing his name to Muhammed Ali. He became a supporter of the Nation of Islam group that much of white America felt was anti-American. Ali claimed the, “followers of Allah are the sweetest people in the world. They don’t carry knives. They don’t tote weapons.” He said this to justify his conscientious objection to the Vietnam war. That seems a bit contradictory since 9/11 and all the violence perpetrated by adherents to Islam.

When Ali reentered the ring he became one of the best if not the best professional boxers of all time. He fought epic battles against Joe Frazier and George Foreman. As a young man I enjoyed watching Ali and his prefight and in fight verbal jabbing. I appreciated what he stood for in terms of racial equality and resistance to the war. He was a very popular figure in his day. He was a three time champion. Some might argue, but I believe he really was the “greatest,” as a boxer.

But there were chinks in the armor of “the greatest.” Ali was a man who lived an immoral lifestyle. History reveals him to be a walking contradiction in many ways. He converted to Islam from Christianity. It’s doubtful he was ever a Christian but he still represents one who left light for darkness. And in light of eternity a man with Ali’s history walks under condemnation. “He who believes in Him [i.e. Jesus] is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Those are Jesus’ words. There’s more to “greatness” than the world leads us to believe.

I’m not picking a fight by mentioning the “great” Ali. I’m just mentioning this popular societal figure who was “great” by the world’s standards so that we can see that there is more to greatness. The Bible tells us very clearly what we must do to be truly great. Jesus said to be the greatest you had to humble yourself like a child (Mat. 18:4). He said service was the essential of greatness (Mat. 23:11). Jesus said the greatest was the “last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:33-35). We don’t see Jesus proclaiming, “I am the greatest!” Even though Jesus had a jab from Jehovah and an omnipotent punch we don’t see Him saying to His opponents, “You’re going down in eight so you‘ll know I’m great!”  The disciples may have leaned toward Ali in how to attain greatness. But Jesus enlightened them toward true eternal greatness.

There’s one man Jesus pointed to as being great. That man was John the Baptist. Of him Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist;” (Mat. 11:11a). “Assuredly” means without a doubt. If you want to know what Jesus’ brand of true greatness looks like in a person, look at John the Baptist.


John the Baptist’s birth was announced by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:11-20). He was born to a woman who had previously been barren. His parents were both “well advanced in years” (Luke 1:5-10). But a unique birth was not what made him great. John was the cousin of Jesus (Luke 1:36). But being a relative of Jesus was not what made him great. John leaped for joy in his mother’s womb when she came near Mary who was pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:39-45). John likely lived out a Nazirite vow from birth (Luke 1:15; compare with Num. 6). But all of this is only a very small part of John’s greatness.  

God brought John to the wilderness to begin building greatness in him. John “was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80). He lived on locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). No doubt this time in the desert was a time when God made John’s call and election sure. The desert is a place of solitude where one can hear from the Lord without distraction, disturbance or interruption. It was in the wilderness where the LORD brought John deeper.  

“John” means the LORD is a gracious giver. The angel Gabriel instructed John’s parents to specifically name their son “John” (Luke 1:13, 60, and 63). In the wilderness, where God could minister one on one with John, the meaning of his name must have been a topic of conversation. The meaning of his mission from God flowed from that. God often maneuvers us into a place where He can have our undivided attention. He will even use predicaments and life problems to get through to us. If we’re going to be great we need to spend time alone with God.

When John came out of the desert he came baptizing. Baptism is a symbolic rite meant to demonstrate dying to self and sin and rising to new life with God. Baptism involved repentance or turning from sin to God (Mat. 3:7-9). John, whose name pointed to God as a gracious Giver, came calling people to God and using baptism as a means of his ministry. So prolific was his ministry that he became known as “John the Baptist.” Pointing out God’s grace is part of being great. Calling people to God through repentance is an attribute of greatness.

John the Baptist was called and elected by God to introduce Jesus as “the LORD” (John 1:19-28).  Jesus is not just a prophet or good man. Jesus is “the LORD.” John was a powerful preacher. He was empowered by God. People flocked to hear him. His preaching resulted in people confessing their sins in repentance and being baptized (Mat. 3:2-6). He demonstrated an anointing from God so that even though he was straightforward in calling people out for their sins, (e.g. “brood of vipers!”) they still came to him. He was not disrespectful to men. But he wasn’t a respecter of men either. John simply and clearly and decisively spoke the truth of God (Mat. 3:7-10). Speaking God’s message and introducing people to Jesus is a great part of true greatness.

John’s mission was foretold more than 700 years in advance through the prophet Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 40:3-5). He was the “voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD” (Mat. 3:3). Part of his mission was that Jesus would come to John to be baptized (Mat. 3:13-16). John at first wanted to submit to Jesus’ baptism. He was humbled by his calling before Jesus. Who was he to baptize the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world? But he was also humble enough to fulfill that calling and baptize Jesus “to fulfill all righteousness.” Humble obedience is another important part of true greatness.

John became very popular. His popularity caused some confusion about who he was. Some thought he might be the promised Messiah. John nipped that thought in the bud. He clearly and emphatically denied being Messiah (Luke 3:1-3). Instead John pointed people to Jesus. He announced Jesus with the words, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John knew and proclaimed Jesus’ baptism was greater than his. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mat. 3:11; cf. also John 1:29-34).

John knew his place. He humbled himself and was humbled in the presence of Jesus. He knew he wasn’t worthy to tie Jesus’ sandal straps (John 1:26-27). Jesus was the One, the only One, who could take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). There was never any equivocation with John the Baptist. He lived a life of full surrender to the LORD. He easily stepped aside and pointed people to Jesus. His life motto was, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). True greatness is humble. Greatness is in proportion to one’s surrender to God. The more you surrender to God the greater you will be. If you want to be great then, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John the Baptist was great because he focused on, submitted to, and promoted the greatness of Jesus. John was great because he echoed the message of Jesus. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). The bottom line is it’s all about Jesus. If you believe in Jesus you have everlasting life. If you don’t believe in Jesus “the wrath of God abides on you.” It’s not a matter of people believing on John. It’s a matter of people believing on Jesus. That is the message of true greatness!


John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.” (John 3:27).  John was great because he had a proper perspective. He had listened to Jesus who had said God’s light helps a person see the blessings of  life were “done in God” (John 3:21). He understood that all he had was from God. It wasn’t his, it was God’s. The Apostle Paul was inspired to write we are bought by God with the price of Jesus. Therefore we don’t have any claim on our lives (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We will save ourselves a lot of grief and pain if we simply live in full surrender to God who has bought us with the precious blood of His only Son Jesus. That is the lesson of true greatness.


John the Baptist was a man of courage. He had faith and courage enough to stand up to Herod concerning Herod’s immoral conduct (Mark 6:17-18). John’s courageous uncompromising stand got him thrown in prison and ultimately beheaded (Mat. 4:12 and 14:1-12). Courage is fear that has said its prayers. John must have been a man of prayer in order to be a man of courage. Prayer and courage are a part of true greatness.


When we look at this great servant of God we see him as a mighty preacher of repentance (Luke 3:2-18). He was fearless in confronting those who could put him to death (Mat. 14:3-4). John the Baptist had a reputation of being “a just and holy man” (Mark 6:20). While John the Baptist was courageous, just and holy, he was even more humble. John “finished his course” faithfully (Acts 13:24-25). John was great because he fulfilled his calling and did the most with what he was given by God.


Yes, John the Baptist was a great man. But did you know there are greater people than him? Yes, Jesus went on to say, “but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Mat. 11:11b). Jesus said, “there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.” But then He goes on to say “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” The word “greater” here is translated from the Greek megas which means greater in size, form, rank, volume, intensity of feeling, or in strength. John was and is a “great” man of God. From Genesis to the Gospels of all those mentioned in history; Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, David, the Patriarchs, kings and the Prophets; of all of these, Jesus says John is the greatest. And yet, “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”


How could anyone be greater than John the Baptist? Well, those now living in the fullness of the gospel of God’s grace in Christ are greater in understanding because of God’s completed revelation. We are greater because we have the privilege of knowing God’s complete canon of scripture. We have a greater understanding of the gospel and prophetic history. We know of God’s revealed eternal plan of redemption. John was anointed by God to greatly fulfill his ministry. We in Christ have the privilege of Pentecostal empowering of the Holy Spirit to fulfill the Great Commission. But beyond all of this and really to prepare us to experience all of this greatness of God, there is a key we must use to unlock the fullness of God’s true greatness.


Jesus tells us the key to true greatness. To be the truly great according to Jesus you have to be “the least in the kingdom of heaven.” True greatness is the product of leastness. The word “least” (Greek mikros) means small, little, short, least.  The littlest, smallest, or least person in the kingdom of heaven (who has access to the completed revelation of God, His plan and empowering to complete the plan) is greater than John the Baptist. But if there is a “least” in the kingdom of heaven it implies there is also a greater in the kingdom of heaven. And to be truly great in God’s heavenly kingdom requires we be least.

True greatness requires we must be least in our estimation of ourselves and great in God’s estimation of us. True greatness requires we must be least in trusting in ourselves and great in trusting God.  The key to true greatness is first realizing we are small, little, short, and least; we don’t measure up.  But what unlocks true greatness is turning to God in simple childlike faith and trusting in His greatness. True greatness realizes God is the greatest!


John the Baptist began to point us in the right direction when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” That is the key we must insert into the keyhole of the rest of the revelation of God in the New Testament. The journey to true greatness is one of constant personal decreasing and constant increasing of Jesus. To be truly great we must move away from self and close to Jesus. To be truly great we must stop focusing on ourselves and focus on Jesus. To be truly great we must stop drawing attention to ourselves and draw attention to Jesus. To be truly great we must step out of the center of attention and put Jesus in the center of life. To be truly great we must realize Jesus is the greatest, not us. That flies in the face of the world and our flesh. But true greatness doesn’t proclaim, “I am the greatest!” It proclaims “Jesus is the greatest!” Be truly great.



Monday, March 10, 2014

What Condemnation?

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” – John 3:17


“Don’t judge me!” is a common retort from anyone whose decisions, lifestyle, or views are questioned today. The media comes down hard on anyone who would hold to and be so bold as to voice the idea of absolute truth. If you are courageous enough to step out and say something is wrong or, heaven forbid, “sinful,” you will be set to the side with a swift dismissive label such as “intolerant,” “hater,” or “bigot.” “Hey,” the self-proclaimed defenders of the new immoral code say, “What condemnation? God didn’t send Jesus to condemn the world. Don’t you know that?”

So what about “condemnation”? What is it? And what does it mean when Jesus said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved”? If you look at the world around you with even a marginal biblical worldview it sure does seem as though there’s quite a bit going on that deserves condemnation. Sin and immorality is proliferating. Government is legislating, legalizing, and imposing on its citizenry things the Bible clearly calls sinful, e.g. same sex marriage. Someone has commented, “If God doesn’t judge this world He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” So let’s look at condemnation and in particular these words of Jesus.

Most who say, “Don’t judge me” refer to Jesus’ statement, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). It’s always important to keep scripture in context. What does the context of this verse reveal? In the same teaching Jesus states, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs: nor cast your pearls before swine, . . . . Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. . . . Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. . . .Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:6, 13, 15, 20, and 21). The term “judge” used by Jesus is a translation of the Greek word krino. Krino means separate, distinguish, decide, decide between, think, approve, resolve, determine, give judgment, condemn, punish, and judge. This is a word that speaks of assessment, of weighing facts and truth about something. There is an element of assessing, of judging in determining who dogs and swine are, those who go through the narrow or broad gate, who the false prophets are, the fruit of a person, and lastly, the genuineness of someone who uses the words, “Lord, Lord.” Is Jesus contradicting Himself? No, Jesus doesn’t contradict Himself. If that is the case, then our understanding of Jesus statement not to judge must mean something different than simply not judging people at all.

We are steered on the course of right interpretation when we look at Jesus words about not everyone who calls Him “Lord, Lord” being eligible to enter heaven. Jesus says basically talk is cheap. It’s not what someone says alone that gets them into heaven, but also whether or not their actions line up with their words. Jesus says, “but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Our actions and words must line up. This is key to understanding Jesus initial statement on not judging. Someone who says one thing and does another is a hypocrite. Jesus denounced hypocrisy with clarity and sternness (e.g. Mat. 23). And when we look at the immediate context of Jesus statement “Judge not,” we see this is what He is talking about.

Jesus says the judgment we use with others is the measure of judgment God will use with us (Mat. 7:2). This should give us pause. Are we as gracious with others as we would want God to be with us? If God holds us accountable with the measure we hold others accountable to, what would the result be? Be careful how you judge is the message of Jesus. He says this because we are so prone to hold others accountable for things we easily allow ourselves to do.

Jesus then speaks of perspective. Before we look to point out the speck of a flaw in someone else we should take care of the plank of a sin in our own lives (Mat. 7:3-4). Then He brings us to the board of correction saying, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Mat. 7:5). In other words be humble in judging others. Jesus is not therefore saying we should not judge, only that we should be careful not to judge hypocritically. This brings to mind what the Apostle Paul was inspired to write, “Be kind and tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). Forgiveness, patience, understanding, grace and love should be our attitude in assessing those around us. That is the message of Jesus.

In John 3:17 Jesus says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, . . . .” Why did Jesus say this? Why is this the case? The word “condemn” is translated from krino, the same word translated “judge” by Jesus in Matthew 7:1. It speaks of a true and honest assessment. The truth of the matter is that God did not have to send His Son Jesus into the world “to condemn the world.” The world was and is already condemned! In Psalms it states, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. 4 Their poison is like the poison of a serpent; they are like the deaf cobra that stops its ear, 5 which will not heed the voice of charmers, charming ever so skillfully” (Psalm 58:3-5).  Humanity is born in sin; born with an inclination to sin against God, rebel against His Holy Word, and live as an enemy against God (cf. Psalm 51:5). Humanity is, “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). Our condemnation is already in place. Jesus says this later in John 3:18 – “he who does not believe is condemned already.”We all deserve to be eternally condemned. We did not have to learn how to sin; it comes natural to us! We deserve the righteous wrath of God. This is the condition of the entire world. But God is rich in mercy and sent forth His Son Jesus to save us (cf. Eph. 2:1-9).

Jesus continues in the second part of John 3:17, “but that the world through Him might be saved.” God does not want to condemn us for our sin. He wants to save the world. There are a number of important aspects of these nine words of Jesus. They are theologically as well as eternally significant.

First, God is inclusive and impartial. God wants to save not merely a select few, but “the world.” There is a doctrinal position that misinterprets Gods’ sovereignty in a way that requires God predetermine the eternal destiny of individuals. This doctrine teaches God enforce salvation separate from and independent of any free will decision on their part. In fact they deny there is any such thing as free will. They see humanities’ granted-by-God ability to choose not to receive Him as a breach or diminishing of God’s sovereignty. This is generally speaking what Calvinism or Reformed Theology holds to. I do not believe this is supported by scriptures. God in His sovereign determination has included free will to make decisions in His salvation equation.

Scripture states, “For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). Just as we are all condemned, God offers all an opportunity in Christ to be saved. There is absolutely no indication here of any exclusivity by God. Scripture does not support the idea that God determines beforehand and created a particular group to be condemned and a particular group to be saved. God “predestines” salvation in terms of knowing or foreknowing the decisions of humanity (Rom. 8:29-30). But He is absolutely inclusive in that all of “the world” who are condemned are all of “the world” who are sought after by Jesus to be saved. The world is condemned in sin. God sent Jesus to save the condemned world. That is all of God’s grace. We need only receive the salvation offered in Christ by faith in Him. God makes this gracious offer. He holds us accountable to our decision in response to His offer. God remains sovereign throughout.


Second, God doesn’t desire us to be condemned. God has made every effort and has gone to the supreme extent to make a way for condemned sinners to avoid His righteous and just condemnation. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11; cf. also Ezek. 18:23, 32). God, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,” not just a few (Titus 2:11). “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And if God sovereignly has decided to offer salvation to “the world” or all people, then it implies there is a choice to be made toward this gracious offer of God to humanity.


Third, God counts the cost. Jesus often spoke of counting the cost (Luke 14:28; Mat. 20:22-23). God practices what He preaches. God sent His Son Jesus to pay the penalty of our sin for us. He sent Jesus to be lifted up, just like the bronze serpent of Moses. The Psalmist is correct. We are like a “serpent . . . a deaf cobra” (Psalm 58:3). Jesus took on the poison of the serpent on the cross in our place for us. And when a person puts their faith in Jesus God wipes their sinful slate clean with the blood of His Son Jesus. He forgives our sin based on what Jesus has done on the cross for us. He does all of this based justly on the substitutionary atonement of Jesus on the cross. Jesus died in our place suffering our death penalty for sin for us (cf. Isaiah 53:1-7; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 2:9; 1 Peter 3:18).


God’s purpose in sending His only Son Jesus is “that the world through Him might be saved.” “Saved” (Greek sodzo) means to be brought to safety, delivered, protected, preserved, healed, made whole, as well as saved. This implies that those in “the world” were in danger beforehand. The Father sent Jesus His only Son to make available a complete and total healing from sin and sins’ affects. God’s objective is to save the world from the poison of sin. In Christ there is deliverance, protection, preservation, healing and wholeness. Salvation in Jesus is the greatest “holistic” medicine, not because it carries any New Agey mysticism but because it addresses all of humanities’ needs.


Fourth, God works through decision. That Jesus uses the phrase “might be saved” (i.e. the subjunctive case of “condemn” or judge) indicates the call for a willful decision from the sinner. God does not superimpose His salvation on us. He presents the good news of possible salvation through belief in Jesus. Then He awaits our decision to either accept or reject His salvation offer.


Fourth, God is the initiator. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to reach down to people drowning in sin and offer them a hand of salvation. Where do you stand with Jesus? Indecision is decision. If you put off making a decision to receive Jesus as Savior by faith, you remain in your state of condemnation. You must make a decision. You must respond in faith to be saved. You must receive God’s gracious provision in Christ. Otherwise you will be lost eternally forever to condemnation.


The gracious offer of salvation in Christ by God is like no other religious offer. The world is sinking deep in a morass immoral quicksand; the consequence of their living in sin. Confucius comes and says, “It is not good that humanity is in sin” and walks on by. Mohammed comes and says, “May Allah’s will be done!” and walks on by. Buddha comes and says, “Learn from this situation” and walks on by.  Krishna says, “Better luck next time” and walks on by.  Jesus comes, looks in compassion, reaches down to sinking humanity, and pulls them up and out of the quagmire of sin. Then He says, “Walk with Me for eternity.” Yes, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only redemptive reality for the sinner.


Religions tell people what they must do to be saved. And because religion is based on work people must do there is no assurance because we can never know how much work is enough work to justify us or work off our sin. Religion tells us what to do. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims, done! Jesus does the heavy lifting for us. Jesus works our salvation on the cross and then says to simply believe and receive what He has done on our behalf and you will be forgiven and saved from your sin. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). Condemned? Or not condemned? The decision is up to you.


Monday, March 3, 2014

For God So Loved

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” – John 3:16a

Ever feel unloved? Ever love someone only to have them betray your love? God knows a bit about love and what it truly means. God invented love. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  Those are words with eternal weight. They are holy; they stand above all other words. These words are the best illustration of love that were ever spoken. If you want to know what love is, look at these words.

As a Bible teacher who teaches through the Bible all of God’s word is holy. But there are some passages, some verses that are particularly holy. Such is John 3:16. I’m tempted to look for a grandiose illustration or explanation of God’s love but the best description of God’s love is His inspired John 3:16. We simply can’t top these words of Jesus about the love of God. Thank You Lord for loving us so much!


God’s love explained. How could belief in Jesus save us? Jesus stated categorically that He must be lifted up. He stated that belief in Him is the determining factor between an eternal destiny of perishing or eternal life. In John 3:16 Jesus substantiates His statements with an explanation of why this is so. And in the process Jesus explains the nature and purpose of God’s love for the lost.


God’s love is explained in that He gave His only Son Jesus. The word “gave” (Greek didomi) means to give up. The grammar of this verb conveys the thought of something the Father did personally and decisively. God gave His only Son Jesus. I doubt we can ever fully comprehend the cost of our salvation to the Triune God. All we can say is that this giving is rooted in the Father’s love. God’s love is enveloped in His loving act of giving His most precious Son Jesus for us. Incredible.


God’s love is expensive. Salvation is offered to us as a free gift of God’s grace (e.g. Eph. 2:1-9). But free doesn’t mean cheap. Our salvation cost Jesus a death on the cross. Jesus paid our penalty for sin (e.g. 1 Peter 1:18-19). He became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). That’s hard to comprehend. And that’s why Paul prayed hopefully that we, “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which pas knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19). Let’s make that our prayer.


God’s love speaks of belief in a precious Person. Who is it that Jesus says a person must decide to believe in? Every person must decide whether or not they will believe in Jesus – “the only begotten Son.” The word “begotten” (Greek monogenes) speaks of a single one of a kind. You can only have one firstborn child. Jesus is uniquely the “begotten” Son of God. The emphasis is on Jesus uniqueness not that He is “begotten” or created as some cults say when they twist the scriptures. Jesus is unique; there is none like Him. The word holy means unique, special. Jesus is holy because He is unique and special.


God’s purpose in redemption is to conform us to the likeness of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). But there is a sense in which Jesus is uniquely Jesus and that we will not be able to be like Him. Jesus is God; Second Person of the Trinity.  One of the prime thrusts and purposes of the gospel of John is to present to us the Person of Jesus. John’s inspired gospel speaks to us about who Jesus is. He is the “only begotten,” He is uniquely from God. Jesus is precious. He is God! Perishing eternally or experiencing eternal life is dependent on believing in the unique, holy, precious Person of Jesus.


God’s love is expansive. Note here the expansiveness, the broadness of this statement of God’s love by Jesus. Jesus used words like “whoever,” and “the world,” to express the scope of salvation. God has not created some destined for eternity in hell and some destined eternally for heaven. He has made it possible for all to spend eternity with Him. If a person spends eternity in hell perishing it will be because they chose to do so. God’s love is broad. God’s love is as broad as the outstretched arms of Jesus. With those outstretched arms Jesus is saying, “Come one, come all, come and be saved from your sin, come spend eternity with Me.” Have you received God’s loving salvation?


God’s love is effective. Maybe you feel unloved. Maybe you have loved someone only to have them betray your love. Maybe you’ve been scared deeply, hurt, or grieved. God’s love is the effective cure and solution to such need. Jesus is the solution to lovelessness. God knows a bit about love and what it truly means. God invented love. God defines love. He authored love. He is the Creator of love and the Source of love. He sustains and gives love power. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  Those are holy words. These words stand above all other words. These words are the best illustration of love that were ever spoken. If you want to know what love is, look at these words.


God’s love in Christ is effective in providing a saving escape from a sentence of eternal perishing. God’s love is effective in Christ in providing a saving escape to eternal life with Him. Only God’s love in Christ provides the solution to the sin problem. Only God’s love in Christ can save us.


God’s love is eternal. These are words with eternal weight; God’s eternal nature is communicated here; our eternal destiny is addressed here. Here we see what Paul was talking about when he was inspired by God to reveal love is the greatest (1 Cor. 13:13). Jesus spoke the words of John 3:16. Remember that. Jesus Himself spoke these precious words. These words are simple, clear, succinct, but eternally profound. These words are from God’s heart and Jesus’ heart and conveyed by the heart of the Holy Spirit. These words reveal the eternal heart of God; a huge part of His nature. John 3:16 contains the heart and love of God. This is an incredible verse. It is the pinnacle of God’s message in so many ways.


God’s love impacts our eternal destiny. The profundity of Jesus’ words is seen in the two eternal destinies He mentions. Jesus speaks of those who will “perish” (Greek – apollymi). “Perish” can be defined with the words to destroy, to die, to lose, mar, perish, or ruin.  This is not speaking of annihilation. Jesus is holding two options before us here. Each one is an eternal destiny. Each one expresses a permanent irreversible condition that hinges on a person’s decision. Perish here refers to the idea of eternal misery in hell. The misery is rooted in perpetual regret for all that has been lost and contemplated during a time that is forever.


The other option of eternal destiny mentioned by Jesus here is “eternal life.” “Everlasting life” (Greek zoen aionion) refers to life, vitality, fullness, blessedness without end. The idea is an eternity of God’s best and blessing. It represents all that is found in the life God provides. Eternal life is life with God and experiencing all the loving of God poured out on us. “’Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.” (Isaiah 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9, 10). Look to God’s word for what eternal life will be like (e.g. Revelation 21-22).


It cannot be stated enough that these two options are presented to “whoever” (Greek pas). This word is broad and all encompassing. No matter what state you are in, good or bad, very good or very bad, these gospel words are presented to you. Jesus opens the gospel to all people. All people will be given the opportunity to make a decision in regard to the gospel presented in this verse.


These are the two options presented here by Jesus; perishing eternal death or eternal life. There is no in between or alternative. A person will either perish or experience eternal life. It is appointed for each person to die once and then face judgment (Heb. 9:27). At that judgment their eternal destiny based on their decision on John 3:16 will be determined.


God’s love calls for an eternally significant decision. What is the deciding factor that determines whether or not a person goes into an eternity characterized by the word “perished,” or “everlasting life”? The deciding factor that our eternal destiny hinges upon is “whosever believes in Him.” “Believes” (Greek – pisteuo) means to have faith in, trust in, to entrust yourself to, commit to.  The grammar of this word (Present tense) denotes an ongoing continual action. It’s not just a onetime belief Jesus is speaking about here. Jesus is speaking about a life commitment.


What is it a person must decide about whether or not they will believe? Every person must decide whether or not they will believe that “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Breaking these words down and dissecting them leads us to see some ramifications and details associated with the belief involved in Jesus words. Believing in Jesus involves the following. A person must decide whether or not they will trust God’s word. They must decide whether or not they will accept God’s love. They must decide whether or not they will accept that God gave His only Son Jesus. Looking deeper this implies we must accept that the giving of Jesus was necessary and essential to our eternal destiny. It involves accepting that our sinful state was bad enough to warrant God giving His only Son Jesus to save us from perishing to eternal life. We must decide whether or not we will accept that belief in Jesus and Jesus alone is sufficient for us to be saved from condemnation and eternal perishing to eternal life. All of this and more is connected to Jesus words in John 3:16. Profound. Have you believed in Jesus? Do you believe in Jesus? Where do you stand on John 3:16?


John 3:16 is a revelation of God’s heart. At the heart of God’s gospel is His love. “Loved” (Greek agapao) means to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, and to love dearly. In this context, applied to God, it refers to the selfless, self-sacrificing, Godly love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4-8) of the Creator. If you want to know what agapao love is in its essence, look to God and the giving of His only Son Jesus on the cross. God demonstrates His love in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus (Romans 5:8). Agape love is love that gives all for the sake of another. It is the supreme love of God. This is the love that is poured into the heart of the Christian when regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). That’s incredible! It is the love that should compel and motivate the Christian in all they do (2 Cor. 5:14-16). That is right.


God’s love for us is real. It is undeserved by us. God’s love is a product of His grace. His love is unconditional. We only need receive it. We have a hard time perceiving or understanding it, but we don’t have to understand it, we only have to receive it. God’s love is a gift. I encourage you to meditate on John 3:16; just think about it. God’s love is amazing. God’s love is incredible. God’s love is unmatchable. God chooses to share such love with us and even pour it out into our heart by the Holy Spirit. The gospel is God’s gracious love manifest.


There’s an old classic hymn composed by Isaac Watts (1674-1748) entitled When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.  Written in 1707, the hymn has stood the test of time. Any work that can maintain its relevance over the years like this hymn must be worth our consideration. It is a hymn that reveals what we should see of God’s love when we look at the cross of Jesus. This hymn has been called the greatest hymn in the English language.


Isaac Watts was an exceptional man. He learned Latin by the age of 5, Greek by age 9, French by age 11, and Hebrew by age 12. More importantly, this gifted intellect learned to love Jesus at an early age. He wrote When I Survey because he was grieved by the heartless worship he saw in English churches. Watts commented, ““The singing of God’s praise is the part of worship most closely related to heaven; but its performance among us is the worst on earth.” Sadly, the same can be said in many a church of our day.


By the end of his life Isaac Watt had written over 600 hymns. He is known historically as the “Father of English Hymnody.” If you want to be blessed, just do some research and take in hymns penned by this man of God. But the one that represents the pinnacle of his work is When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. This hymn, written when Watts was 33, captures his heart of devotion for God. It is a tried and true favorite of many. It is the perfect hymn to worship the Lord with in light of John 3:16.



When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.


Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my God; all the vain things that charm me most—I sacrifice them to His blood.


See, from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down; did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?


Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small: Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. [1]


Why not pause a moment and let John 3:16 sink deep into your heart. It’s averse so many have committed to memory. It is a verse we may know by memory but perhaps our familiarity with it has led to a neglect of appropriate loving appreciation to God for all it entails. Why not take a moment to worship Him now. Survey the wondrous cross and thank Him for His love.


[1]Osbeck, Kenneth W.: Amazing Grace : 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Kregel Publications, 1990, S. 106