Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on January 31, 2016
Open your Bibles with me to John 2:1-12. We will read our text, pray and then examine our text so as to see the glory of God in the face of Christ.
At first glance, this story of events seems to be lacking. We read these verse and we shrug our shoulders and say so what, why do we care, how is this relevant, how does this help my broken life?
If that is you, I want you to know that the text is not the problem, your heart is. If we find the living Word of God to be mundane, boring, irrelevant, ineffective it is not because God is a poor writer of books, it is because you have sin blinding you from seeing what God wants to show you. For each of us, sin effects how we read God’s Word, and we under value its worth. We undervalue its relevance. We undervalue its depth. We undervalue its power. So let us not to that today, for this is God’s Word, coming from God’s mouth.
From the moment that Jesus was revealed as the long awaited for Messiah in John 1, things began to move very quickly. In our text we see John emphasizing that fact by stating these events too place on the third day. At this point in the unfolding of this Gospel, Jesus has five followers: Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathanel, and the other unnamed disciple. Most likely this unnamed disciple is the author of our story, John, hence why he remains unnamed, but we can’t be for sure.
On the third day they find themselves at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Earlier we learned that Cana was the hometown of Nathaniel. The town itself was believed to be no more than 500 people, so about the size of Wyoming, IA. Cana was located about 9 miles from Nazareth. It is believed that Nazareth was slightly larger and it is believed that a fair amount of people from Cana would have gone to Nazareth for trade. Because of the small size of Nazareth and Cana, it is likely that the reason that Jesus was at the wedding is because he personally knew the bride or the bridegroom or both. Our text does not tell us, but Mary's concern about the lack of wine seems to lead us to believe that she was somehow concerned about how the success of the event. Likewise the ending of our story has Mary, Jesus' half brothers, and his disciples going together to Capernaum. Therefore, I think it is fair to assume this wedding was a family affair.
Weddings during this time were even bigger deals then they are today. Weddings would have been the event of the year for a place like Cana. It is not like today where we have entertainment overload. There were no high school sporting events, no movie theaters, no concerts, nothing but weddings and funerals. Therefore, when a wedding occurred, they went all in. The tradition was the weddings could last up to seven days long. There would be eating and drinking and perhaps dancing. The one thing that was different about wedding celebrations back then as compared to now is that the celebration fell squarely on the bridegrooms shoulders, not the bride. Today our tradition is that the parents of the bride pay for the reception, not so back then. And you can see this in our text in verse 9 where it says, “the master of the feast called the bridegroom.” For it was the bridegroom was the one who was responsible for supplying the wine.
Now one thought that may be running through you mind at this point is who cares? Who care is the wine runs out? Just go get some more, or end the party sooner. What is the big deal? The big deal was the embarrassment. One of the reasons the bridegroom was responsible for the festivities was to display his ability to care for the bride. This was the first display of his role of husband, to be a provider. This was the first impression to his bride, her family, and the entire community in regards of what type of bridegroom he would be. Failure to provide a sufficient amount of wine would have been a sign of the bridegroom's inadequacies and would be a stigma that would last his entire life. The wedding was a defining moment man's life.
What this Text is Not About
When I was in high school, I didn't cuss, didn't drink, didn't do anything bad. As Paul said, I was a pharisee of pharisees. At that time in my life I wasn't saved, I was a legalist. Because of that, this story drove me crazy. I hated that the first miracle that Jesus performed was to turn water into wine. I was a teetotaler, and I wanted Jesus to be one too. This miracle destroyed that hope. I attempted to rationalize that perhaps the wine was non-alcoholic, but I knew that probably wasn't the case. So I always struggled with why. Why did Jesus of all ways to break into the public limelight and choose that his first miracle to be turning water into wine. To answer that question lets begin by clarifying what this story is not about.
As is common, the Roman Catholic Church has twisted this section of Bible to suit their own purposes. As all of you know, the Roman Catholic Church exults Mary to the position of God. They will argue that they don’t, but the evidence is overwhelming clear, they pray to her, sing songs about her, hail her, plaster her on billboards, and put little idols of her all around town.
Because of the idol worship of Mary they change the meaning of text to match their false teaching. One way they do it is John 2. In this story we see Jesus’ mom coming to him and informing him of a problem. Jesus responds, and then his mom tells the servants to do what Jesus tells them. The Roman Catholic Church sees this as an example of the special position Jesus mom has as mediatrix. By this they mean that Jesus’ mom is the mediator between man and God. Therefore, Romans Catholics are taught to read this text and see the glory of Jesus’ mom, and therefore go to Mary for grace. Teaching that this text is about Mary is first of all intellectually ridiculous, but it is also straight from the pits of Hell. The Bible is very clear.
Now, if you noticed, I never once referred to Jesus’ mom by name. What is interesting is neither does John. He chooses to leave her name out of our story today. However what is interesting is that John never speaks Mary's name in all of this Gospel. It is as if John is attempting to take the focus off of Mary. It is as if he is trying to create a distance with her.
And it is not just John who does this. Notice Jesus’ response to his mom. Instead of calling her mom, or Mary, or anything affectionate he calls her “Women.” Why does Jesus do this? Why do we see his interaction with his mom, as he begins his ministry, as one that is ordinary, or common? Why doesn’t Jesus display a specific affection for the women who gave birth to him? It is really quite elementary. It is because Jesus is God.
As Jesus begins his public ministry, the veil is being lifted, and in this semi-public setting he wants to make it clear that His mother does not have authority over him. Instead he wants to make it clear that He has authority over her. It is interesting that the truth of this text is actually the exact opposite of what the Roman Catholic Church teaches. Jesus desires to display a separation with Mary because he knows the sinful hearts of man and our propensity to worship created things, not the Creator. Mary was a creature. She was a descendent of Adam, just like all of us. And just like all of us, through Adam we have all inherited a sin nature. Mary was a sinner in need of God's salvation just like you and I. And so in our text today, we see Jesus right out of the gate making it very clear that he does not submit to his mother’s demands. However this does not mean that he will not act.
Angels of God Ascending and Descending
So if the glory of Mary is not the purpose of this text, then what is? For us to understand what is going on, it would be wise for us to think big picture. If you recall, the purpose of this book is found in John 20:31, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John writes this gospel for the ultimate purpose of putting Christ on display so that those who read these words would believe in Jesus and have life. This is the author's purpose.
With this in mind, turn back to John 1:51. Last week, I passed over this text but it is a good launching point for today.
What is John saying here? First it is a reference back to Genesis 28 where Jacob had dream where he saw a ladder that reached to heaven and angels were ascending and descending, and in Genesis 28:14 God says this to Jacob, “Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Jesus is proclaiming, and John is telling, that this prophecy in Genesis 28 is being fulfilled in Jesus at this moment in time.
It is one thing to say it, it is another thing to show it, and that is what John does in his gospel account. He wants to show that heaven really was pouring out on Christ. In the Gospel of John there are seven signs, or miracles, that John testifies to: changing water into wine, the healing of an official’s son, the healing of a paralytic, the feeding of the 5000, Jesus walking on water, the healing of a man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. On top of these signs there is, of course the resurrection, which is the greatest of all sings, and then there is a closing miracle of a great catch of fish.
Were these the only miracles Jesus performed? No. John says in John 21:25, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” John by the power of the Holy Spirit was selective so as to paint the picture God wanted him to paint of the Glory of Christ. And this is exactly what the ultimate purpose of this miracle was all about, to display the Glory of Christ.
By Jesus transforming water into wine without planting a seed in the ground, without the growing of the grapes, without squeezing the juices, and without fermenting and straining the wine, but instead by just commanding it into existence was displaying something that no one had ever seen before. Why? Because the last time something like this happened was in Genesis 1 when God was hovering over the waters and said let their be light, and their was light. Jesus is like manner, as he begins his ministry does something that only God himself can do...speak something into existence.
And as the five disciples sat and watched God in action, there response was appropriate, they believed. Didn't they already believe? Yes, but the display of the Glory of Christ right before their eyes increased their faith. They went from one degree of believing to the next. And the more glory of Christ that they would see, the more they would believe.
And this reality is not only true for them, but it is true for us. We, who have chosen to follow Christ, have only a mustard seed worth of faith. At times, our lack of faith in Christ is lacking. We are weak in times when we should be strong, we are afraid in times when we should be bold, we are anxious in times when we should have peace. The reason for these shrotcomings is our lack of faith in Christ. So what shall we do to increase our faith? We must see the Glory of Christ. As it says in Hebrews 12:2 we must, “[look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
How do we do this? The Word of God. When we read, and study, and meditate, and pray through the powerful Word of God, what we are doing is setting our eyes upon Jesus Christ. This is why the Word of God sanctifies us, because in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. When we read the Scriptures we are gazing upon the revelation of God in Christ.
So many Christians struggle through this life. They battle against anxiety, against coveting, against loneliness, against self-image, against immorality, you name it. And the way you cast off those strongholds is through seeing the Glory of Christ in the living and abiding Word of God. So pick up your Bibles and set your eyes upon Jesus.
More than a Miracle
Now, I have still not addressed my childhood problem as it comes to this miracle. If this miracle was fundamentally about a display of God's glory, why water to wine at a wedding. Why not fire from heaven, or something else more dramatic?
The coming of Jesus into the world marks a significant transition in the relationship between God and man. Prior to Christ, the way in which God ordained that man would commune with him was through the nation of Israel. A nation that was built upon the laws of God. Despite the rigidness of the laws, God still viewed this relationship as an intimate one. In fact, in the Old Testament it was not uncommon for God to refer to Israel as his wife or his bride.
This relationship between God and man consisted of laws and rituals, such as the ten commandments, sacrifices, and ceremonials washings. These practices were engrained in the culture. It was all they knew. It was the way they were to relate with Yahweh.
The problem with these things was that they were insufficient. The law as bridegroom was not able to provide the bride with the joy that she longed for. And this should not surprise us, for the law was not given by God to make one heart merry, it was merely a steward until the true Bridegroom arrived.
It is no coincidence that Jesus in performing this miracle used six stone water jars that were there for the Jewish rites of purification. With this act Jesus was declaring that the days of purification were over, that the old wine of the law had come to an end, and the new wine provided by the true Bridegroom had finally arrived. This new wine was the new wine of the new covenant, a wine that is sweeter than the religion of old, and one that never runs out, and one that will make the heart eternally merry.
The reason Jesus performed this miracle had nothing to do with his mom, and had everything to do with the announcement that Israel's bridegroom had finally come. The bridegroom that was more than able to provide for his bride, not only for a few days, but forever.
So how does this relate to you? I think it is safe to say that no one in this room is Jewish. The rights of purification is not something we find ourselves clinging to. Even though none of us struggle with Jewish rituals, many of us still struggle with looking to something other than Christ to satisfy. There are many things in this world that we can look to satisfy our hearts: religion, good works, Mary, your spouse, your children, your money, your self-esteem.
The wine of those things will some day run out. And when it does, I hope you have the sense to turn to Christ. What Jesus provides is sweeter than any other wines this world can provide, and it will never run out. My role today is the be the servant that brings the cup and asks you to drink. It is my prayer that, if you have not yet done so, you would be like the master of the feast taste and see that the Lord is good.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on January 24, 2016
Open your Bibles to John 1:35-51. Before we read our text for today, let us get oriented by way of review. So far, up to this point, we have examined the prologue of this Gospel (Verses 1-18) and we have examined the initial testimony of John the Baptist (Verse 19-34). In those two sections the Apostle John was introducing us to some of the characters in the story.
As we saw, when the curtain opens in the Gospel of John we see the single figure of Christ standing on the stage, surrounded by absolutely nothing, “In the beginning was the Word.” John makes very clear that his story that he will tell revolves around this Person he names the Word.
As scene 2 begins we are introduced to a second person, John the Baptist. We are told that John the Baptist is a prophet sent by God himself. The primary purpose of John was to be voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.” We are told that the story isn’t about John the Baptist, it is about Jesus. And in fact, the primary role of the Baptist is for people to realize this fundamental truth, that it is not about him, but about Christ. So as we ended last week, we saw John the Baptist doing what he does best, pointing people to Jesus Christ and saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And with that brief review, let us read our text, pray, and examine God’s Word together to see what scene three has in store for us.
Who is John speaking to? As we saw last week, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people were coming to hear John preach. Was John speaking to the multitudes? Oddly enough, no. In this particular case, John is speaking to two of his disciples. So instead of hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands, or even hundreds, or dozens, the audience at this particular moment is two. These two, however, were not just two random men, they were disciples of John the Baptist.
The Greek Word for disciples is “mathētēs” (mä-thā-tā's). This word means a learner or pupil. It is used 73 times in the book of John and a total of 246 times in the four Gospels and the book of Acts. The word disciple plays a significant role within the Church age.
The idea of a disciple is that you would attach yourself to someone who was skilled in a certain craft or discipline, and through your relationship with that person you would pick up the knowledge necessary to do what they did. You would be an apprentice of sorts.
With this in mind, take a moment and think about John’s Disciples. These were the people who followed John so that they could do what John does best. They wanted to learn from John, copy John, imitate John. What does John do best? As we said last week, John testifies about Christ. The skill that John had was his ability to point people to Jesus, His talent was to say things like “Behold the Lamb of God.” Therefore, these disciples were being trained up to point to Jesus Christ and say “Behold the Lamb.”
The Lamb of God
Last week, because of time, I did not unpack those words, “Behold the Lamb of God.” So let us briefly do that now.
What is John saying when he says “Behold he Lamb of God whom comes to take away the sin of the Word”? The animal of the lamb finds its theological roots all the way back to Genesis 4:4 where it says, “and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering.” Therefore, the very first offering we see given to God and received by God with approval is the firstborn lamb of the flock.
Next in Genesis 22 we see another significant story revolving around a lamb. This is a story where God instructs Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. They walk up Mount Moriah and on their way up to the top of the mountain Isaac says “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.” And Abraham was right. Just before he sacrificed his son, and angel of the Lord intervened and God provided a ram for the sacrifice as a substitute offering for Isaac.
The next time we see a lamb is in the launching of the nation of Israel. God says this Exodus 12:3, “Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. ….5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old…7“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts … 13The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. 14“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.”
It was the death of the sacrificial lamb, and his blood that was a sign of God’s covenant people. The blood on the doorposts of the people’s homes was the reason God’s wrath did not fall upon a family. We call the even the Passover.
Again we see a picture of a lamb in the book of Isaiah, a prophet of Israel. In Isaiah 53 we are told of a man of sorrows, who bore our grief, smitten by God, pierced for our transgression, chastised, and crushed for our inequities Why is this? To bring us peace, to heal us, to be an offering for guilt.
And this is what it says right in the middle of the chapter about this man, verse 7, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
So when John says “Behold the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world” he is grabbing hold of the thread of God’s story that has its beginnings in the beginning and runs throughout the Old Testament and he ties this string right to Jesus. John is effectively telling his two disciples that this is the true lamb, that all the others lambs were just types, or shadows, or clues pointing to the greater reality of Jesus Christ. John is proclaiming that that Jesus is the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the world. That Jesus is the only offering that is sufficient to deal with the worlds sin in a final and decisive way. So in effect, with these brief words of John, John is sharing the gospel.
Power of The Gospel
So what happened when John shared the gospel with those closest to him? It worked! Verse 37, “The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” Does this seem strange to you? John is a the pinnacle of his career, wildly popular, John then shares perhaps the most simple gospel message possible with these two disciples, and they jump off the Baptist Bandwagon and follow Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph's Son. To our knowledge, Jesus hadn't preached a single sermon, performed a single miracle, cast out a single demon, nothing, yet the gospel had a effect on these men, and not just a subtle effect, but a life changing affect. They abandoned all they knew, and attached themselves to someone new, Jesus.
Why? Because this is the power of the Gospel. Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The gospel message of Jesus Christ being the single sacrifice for our sins is not just interesting, it is awakening. The Gospel is powerful, and it is only through testifying to whom Christ is that people will be converted to follow Jesus and be saved.
I am so tired of so called Christians saying that they don't like to preach to people, they just like to be a good example. What foolish words! How are they to hear without someone preaching! If you do not share the Gospel with them, then who will? If no one shares the Gospel with them they burn in Hell forever. The most unloving thing you can do, is to not preach Christ to those closest to you.
Thankfully, for Andrew and the other disciple, John the Baptist did not adopt the heresey that is so commonly spread in Churches today. I am sure you have heard it and perhaps even spoke it yourself: “preach always use words if you have to.” We must instead embraced the motto “preach always, use words.” For it was the words “Behold the Lamb of God” that was the means by which God transferred John's Disciples into the Kingdom of his beloved son.
Disciple Making Disciples
And what do we see these disciples of John immediately do? Verse 40, “One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42He brought him to Jesus.”
These two men, follow the teaching of John and do exactly what John did. They testify that this Jesus is the long awaited for Messiah, the Christ. They didn't wait around to see how this following Jesus thing panned out, they didn't wait for weeks, months, years, for that perfect moment to introduce their family to Jesus. As new disciples of Jesus, the first thing that was on their mind was to make more disciples. They were disciple making disciples.
We then see the exact same thing happen with Philip. Verse 43, “the next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
Once again, without hesitation Philip had a strong desire to immediately make disciples. He did not wait until Jesus held a national conference on evangelism, nor did he wait go and order the greatest books on how to share your faith. He simply went and shared the Gospel by saying, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote.” Nothing fancy, nothing long, just simply Jesus, the one we have been waiting for, come and see.
And who did Andrew and Philip go to? To those closest to them. They wanted their loved ones to see what they saw. Their excitement over the majesty of Christ compelled them to invite others to gaze upon the beautiful reality of the Word becoming flesh.
And so in scene 3 of John's Gospel we see very clearly the DNA of the Kingdom of Christ. It is one that is based upon multiplication. Multiplication by Gospel proclamation. We are to understand that the disciples of Jesus are to be first and foremost disciple makers themselves. This is how God would build a Kingdom for his Son. And this strategy of disciple making disciples through the proclamation of the Gospel did not end when Christ ascended into heaven.
In the end of this book in John 17, Jesus prays these words the night before his arrest in verse 20, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,“ And after Jesus resurrection we see in Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says these familiar words, “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, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This strategy of disciples making disciples is to go on until Christ returns, to the end of the age. We have not reached that end. Our commission remains the same. To be disciples who make disciples, just like Andrew and just like Philip. So the question is, are you? Are you going to those who are closest to you, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers and are you telling them to behold, to come and see this Jesus in whom you follow?
If you are a follower of Christ, this is not optional. It is the primary reason that God has left you hear on this earth, to testify about the Christ. He has not left you hear to be comfortable. He has not left you hear to climb the corporate ladder. He has not left you hear to watch football or plug your kids into every conceivable activity known to man. He has left you here to build the Kingdom of God, one soul at a time.
This commission to be disciple making disciple is not just for pastors, it is for all of us. It is for the young and the old, the new believer and the mature believer, male and female. We do not need to read the latest book, or attend some Bible study on how to share your faith, all we need is to know is the Gospel and share it. It is not rocket science, it is merely loving obedience. Week in and week out, many of you come to Cornerstone and study your Bibles and sing these songs and encourage each other, and all of those things are great, but if you are not going out their and testifying about Jesus Christ, then what is the point?
I have no desire here at Cornerstone to build a monument, my heart, and I hope yours also, is to build a movement. A movement of people who spend their week, not chasing their dreams, but chasing gospel opportunities. A movement of people who ooze the gospel. A movement of people like John, Andrew, and Philip.
Open your Bibles to John 1:19-34. Today we are focusing our attention on one of the most fascinating people in all of the Bible, John the Baptist. We have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s dive right into our text, pray, and then examine God’s Word together.
So as we begin, we need to make sure we are all on the same page. In verse 19 it says, “And this is the testimony of John.” The John that is referred to in our text today is not the author of the Gospel of John. There are two Johns that play a significant role in the Gospel accounts, John the Baptist, who is the person referred to in our scripture today, and John the Disciple, who is the author of this Gospel. Two different people.
In the Gospel of John, the author, John the Disciple, never refers to himself by name. He usually calls himself the disciple in “whom Jesus loved.” Therefore, if you see the name John in the Gospel of John, it is most likely referring to John the Baptist. Clear as mud?
So who is this John the Baptist? To answer this, let us go back and look at verse 6, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”
So our introduction to John the Baptist includes that he was 1) Sent from God 2) to bear witness about the light, and 3) He was not the light. So as we begin, let us start with the question why do we need to know that John was not the light. Why make this statement?
Not the Light
In between the Old Testament and the New Testament there is about 400 years. These years are called the 400 years of silence. They are called the years of silence because that was a period of time that God did not have a prophet for the nation of Israel. God was in effect silent. He had said everything that needed to be said as it relates to the Old Covenant. The Old Testament Canon was closed.
In about the year 26 A.D. in steps John the Baptist. As verse 6 says, “He was sent from God.” With John, God start speaking again prophetically. John begins to preach a message of repentance for the Kingdom of God is at hand. For those who embraced this message of repentance, they were immediately baptized. This symbolized their commitment to turn back to the Lord.
What is interesting is that every single one of the Gospels talks about John the Baptist: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This is interesting because the Gospels are all about the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, yet each one of them are inspired to insert a short narrative about this Baptist fellow.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we are given a glimpse into the ministry of John the Baptist. In Matthew 3:4-6 it says, “Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” What I want us to focus on is verse 5, “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him.” I could not find a very exact number, but It appears that it is estimated that about 1 million people lived in Jerusalem around the time of John the Baptist. Judea was the province that surrounded the City of Jerusalem. In Judea were towns such as Bethlehem, Emmaus, Lydda, Joppa, Bethany, Jericho, and many other small towns. I was not able to find Judea's population during the times of John, but make no mistake it would have been tens of thousands up to one hundred thousand additional people. Likewise, the third area mentioned, the area around the Jordon River, I was also unable to find a estimated population. However, the river runs the eastern boarder of the province of Judea and Samaria for 156 miles and empties into the Dead Sea, so the river valley would also have had an additional tens of thousands if not one hundred thousand people.
So the point that Matthew desires to make is that John the Baptist was wildly popular. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and potentially up to 1 million people were taking pilgrimages out into the middle of nowhere to listen to a guy in funny clothes preach about how sinful they were. In fact, John was so popular that Herod the tertruach, the ruler of the province was afraid of him, and according to Matthew 14 arrested him, but did not kill him because he feared what the crowds response would be.
The Jewish historian Josephus who lived during the time of John the Baptist in his antiquities said this, “Now many people came in crowds to him, for they were greatly moved by his words. Herod, who feared that the great influence John had over the masses might put them into his power and enable him to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best to put him to death. In this way, he might prevent any mischief John might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late.”
It should also be noted that this influence of the Baptist was not limited to just Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordon River, and it was not limited to just the time before Jesus came. In Acts 19:1-7 we see Paul in Ephesus, which is in modern day Turkey, engaging with the people and he asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.”
This conversation would have occurred about 25 years after John’s ministry. Once you start to let some of these things sink in you can understand the words of Jesus in Luke 7:28, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.” DSO we can understand why it is important to understand that John the Baptist is not the light, that he is not the Christ.
And it is because of the greatness of John, and the immense influence that John had over the Jewish people that we see in our text today, verse 19, a delegation of priests and Levites from Jerusalem coming out to Bethany to check this guy out. And the first question they ask is”Who are you?” What a peculiar question. “Who are you?” Didn't they know?
Yes and no. They new who he was, he was John, the son of Zechariah the priest. But they could also sensed something greater about him, as if he was more than just John. There question is a question of amazement and wonder. And you can see that in the answer that John gives in verse 20, “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” Once again, what a strange answer. Why answer it this way? Because John knew what was on their mind, and he knew what was on everyone else's mind. For 400 years Israel hadn't heard from God, then all of the sudden John shows up and he is full of the Holy Spirit and preaches words of power and are piercing people's hearts. And murmurings start to work their way through the crowd, is he the one? Is he the long awaited for Messiah? Perhaps people begin to even attempt to pressure him into the position, such as they would later attempt to do with Jesus is trying to force him to be King. And just like in an interrogation, John confessed to the truth, and stated very clearly that he was not the Messiah.
The delegation, however, is not satisfied with his answer. John has to be more than just a charismatic preacher, so they ask him if he is Elijah and if he is the Prophet. What is that all about? First, let us start with the question about “the Prophet.” Who was this? In Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses says this to the people of Israel, ““The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—.” This is the prophet they are speaking about. This is the prophet they are wondering if John is. John answer to this is no, why? Because the prophet Moses is talking about is none other than Jesus himself. For Christ is the Prophet and the prophecy. As the author of Hebrews so rightly puts it, “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”
They also asked are you Elijah? For those who do not know, Elijah was an Old Testament prophet. He lived almost 1000 years before John the Baptist. He was a great and powerful prophet of God. So why would the Jerusalem delegation ask if he was some dead guy? It is because a prophecy found in the very last book of the Old Testament, Malachi.
Now what is interesting is that John says, nope, not Elijah. This is interesting because all the others Gospels identify John as the Elijah spoken of in Malachi. Jesus in Matthew 11:14 says, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” So why did John say no? Good question. We don't know the answer. Perhaps John was playing coy, and said no, because even though he was the Elijah that was prophesied, he was not Elijah in the flesh, but he was John. Or as D.A. Carson believes he did not know the fullness of his lot in life. Yes, John knew what he was called to do, and yes he was doing it, but he was not convinced that he was in fact that Elijah that God proclaimed would come.
A Voice in the Wilderness
So who does John say he is? John 1:23 - “He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
What does this mean? This is a quote from Isaiah 40:3. The book of Isaiah is very interesting. It has significant structure to it. In fact, some people call the book of Isaiah the mini-Bible within the Bible. What is interesting is that in the chapters leading up to chapter 39 we see warning and judgment, preparing the people of Israel to be conquered and taken into captivity by Assyria and Babylon, which did happen in 722 B.C. and 586 B.C. Then in chapter 40 Isaiah makes a dramatic shift and stops the words of judgment and starts to give words of hope and comfort for the people of Babylon. It is almost as if you are starting a brand new book. If you have time today, take a look, it is really quite remarkable. And these words of hope, these words of comfort begin by saying this:
This was John's calling. This was John's purpose. To point people to Jesus Christ, our comfort, our prince of peace, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. No matter how popular he was, his mission did not change, he was merely a voice crying out. He was not the light, and he knew it, and he embraced it, and proclaimed it. I think it is so fascinating. Johh the Baptist had thousands and thousands of followers in his life, perhaps hundreds of thousands. 2000 years later, he as none. No one follows John the Baptist. Jesus on the other hand, when he died there were 120 people who followed him. 2000 years later 2.2 billion people claim to follow Jesus. As a lawyer, I love evidence. If you ask me, that is some pretty good evidence that John was telling the truth when he said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ and “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Our roles are not much different than Johns. As God chose him, so he also chose us.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on January 10, 2016.
Open your Bibles with me this morning to John, chapter 1. Last week we began our journey through the Gospel of John by setting the stage. We did this by examining, very briefly some context that surrounds this amazing piece of God inspired literature. We looked at the Genre, Author, the Purpose.
As I stated, the purpose of the Gospel of John is not difficult to figure out because he tells us exactly why he wrote this book in John 20:31, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” It is with this purpose in mind that we begin our study today in John, chapter 1. Please follow along with me as I read the first 18 verses.
I have spoken about this before, but when I was in law school they taught us two ways to write in regards to legal persuasion. One way was named IRAC and the other was named CRAC. IRAC stood for Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion. The idea is that you laid out the issue or the problem, you then applied the rules that were relevant, you then plugged the issue into the law through analysis, and out came a logical legal conclusion. CRAC on the other hand stood for Conclusion, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion. It is the same idea as IRAC, but you began you with the end. You begin with your conclusion. You didn’t hide you cards, or build up to a climax, you came out of the corner swinging, so to speak.
This is exactly what the Apostle John does in his Gospel. Verses 1- 18 are jammed pack with overarching grand conclusions about who Jesus Christ is and why He is relevant. John is not letting the reader come to their own conclusion as much as he is telling them what they should expect to see. Verses 1-18 are what is called the prologue, a preliminary discourse, of the Gospel of John.
And it is in the prologue that we can see an introduction of many of the themes of this Gospel, such as Christ’s divinity, the world, light and darkness, life, truth, new birth, believing. These are the beginnings of threads that are weaved throughout the fabric of this Gospel. And it is because of these later teachings on these topics that I will skip over most of those things today. But there are a few that I think are unique to these first 18 verses.
The first thing I want to direct our attention to is how John chooses to introduce us to the hero of the story. He does not call Jesus by name, or by title, such as the Christ. Instead he introduces us to him be referring to Him as the Word. Verse 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This may seem odd, for there are not a shortage of ways you can refer to Jesus, as I stated you could call him the Christ, but you could also refer to Him as the Son of God, the Son of Man, Son of David, the King of Kings, the True High Priest, the Prince of Peace, the Root of Jesse, the Lamb of God, the Seed of Eve, etc, etc. But John did not choose any of these names, instead John, inspired by the Holy Spirit picked “The Word” Why?
The Greek word for Word is logos. Very few of you know this, but this was one of my top choices for the name of this Church, but others thought it was too heady. So we went with Cornerstone, which is good too. Logos means a word, something that is said, an expression of a thought, a discourse, a doctrine proclaimed.
The word logos played a prominent role in Greek philosophy. It finds it roots in a Greek philosopher named Hereclitus who lived around 500 B.C. Hereclitus believed that logos provided the link between rational discourse and the world's rational structure. Another Greek philosopher also was drawn to the word Logos, Aristotle who lived around 350 B.C. Embraced the word logos as one of the fundamental things that separated us from animals. It was the ability to reason and persuade. From that point a group of people known as the stoics picked up the ball and ran with it, and understood the term logos to mean a rational principal, and believed their was a logos to all creation that would explain why everything exists.
These Greek philosophers and philosophies found their way into the Jewish teaching, especially the Hellenist Jews. One such Jewish Philosopher was Philo of Alexandria. He lived around the same time as Jesus. And would have died about 30-40 years before John wrote this Gospel. Philo, who I do not believe was ever a follower of Jesus, believed that logos, was an intermediary divine being. Philo said this of logos, “the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated."
So is this why John, a Jew himself, and who regularly encountered Hellenist Jews chose to describe the Son of God as the Logos? Perhaps to some degree, but I think there is a greater reason. One that Philo of Alexandria may have been on the edge of discovering.
When you read through the Old Testament, Genesis through Malachi, the one dominant theme you see is the Word of God. From the very beginning we see Elohim, the plural word for God, creating the heavens and the earth by speaking them into existence. He then creates a creature in His image with the ability to communicate and being communicated with. God then chooses to reveal Himself to humanity through words. He speaks to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, and the prophets. It is through His Word that he reveals himself, his expectations, his plans, His promises, and His Love. DA Carson says this, “In short, God's Word in the Old Testament is his powerful self-expression in creation, revelation and salvation.” God is a God who speaks, and without Him speaking we would have no knowledge of who He is. It is only His Word that provides us a glimpse into His glory.
And it is, I believe, with this in mind that John says, Jesus is the logos. By this profoundly deep statement, John is saying that Jesus is the ultimate expression of God's revelation. Jesus is not just a word from God, but is THE Word from God. And you can see this understanding as you work through the first 18 versus. Verse 14, “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Verse 16, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Verse 18 “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Jesus is the full revelation, the full expression of Elohim we see in Genesis 1:1. And as we have said many times before, this makes sense, for all of the Old Testament points to Jesus Christ.
Perhaps this is why John says in verse 9, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” The light of Logos does in fact shine down on every man. Everyone is without excuse. For some, when they see the evidence of the Son of God, they run from the light, for others they run to the light. As John says in verse, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” As much as our secular schools love Aristotle, there may not be a greater truth about him then to say that he was merely a fool. He spent his life chasing after truth, but failed to see the fullness of truth, the ultimate truth, that being the Glory of the only Son from the Father, and because of this spends all eternity separated from the Source of that truth. So as John begins, he desires to have us know what Jesus is not just a carpenter's Son, but he is the full summation of God's revelation. But that is not all he wants us to know.
In the Beginning
It is believed that John wrote this Gospel several years after all the other Gospels were written, perhaps even 20 years after the other Gospels were written. If that is true, which I believe it is, that means that the Apostle John would have read and been very familiar with Matthew, Mark and Luke.
When you look at the other Gospels, and their beginnings you find something interesting. In Chapter 1 of Matthew, He reaches back to Abraham. In chapter 1 of Mark he reaches back to Isaiah. In Chapter 1 of Luke he reaches back to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.
John, as he surveys each one of these other Gospels, he makes a decision to reach back farther than any of them and go all the way back to the beginning. He desires to strike the same bell that was first struck in Genesis 1:1. It is as if John saw something lacking in each one of their Gospels and he wanted to provide a more complete picture of who this Jesus was, so what does he say, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
This leads us to the question, beginning of what? John answers that question for us in verse 3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” So beginning of what? Beginning of all things that were made. Before the world existed, before the Universe existed, before time existed, before the angelic hosts and principalities existed. As John starts his book he directs our attention to a point where all there was, was God. And as we peer back into that point before time began, we see Jesus, both with God and God himself. And in this monumental declaration we see an express teaching of a portion of the Trinity, the Father and the Son.
This is important. In our text this morning we see an explicit teaching of the eternal nature of Christ. We have touched on this before at Cornerstone, but you can’t say it enough. Jesus is not a created being. He is eternal. If you kids as you, where did Jesus come from, your answer is that he has always existed. He has no beginning. He is forever. Will they understand this? No, but that is ok, because neither do I. This is one reason that Jesus is Holy. He is set apart beyond our comprehension.
Not everyone believes that Jesus is eternal. For example the Mormon’s and the Jehovah Witnesses. Both of these cults do not believe in the eternal Son. They strip Jesus of one of His greatest attributes, his equal eternal nature with the Father. Therefore they have created a false Jesus who they follow, and therefore they are not true followers of Jesus Christ.
If you run into one of these two groups, which you probably will, they may try to argue with you about Jesus not being eternal. In fact, their desire to evangelize you through undermining Jesus' eternal nature is proof that they are followers of Satan. Think about it, who proselytizes by starting off minimizing the greatness of their Savior. But this is exactly what they do when they engage with you. The are true followers of Satan, twisting God's Word to strip Christ of His glory.
If you want you can end the argument very quickly by taking a piece of paper, drawing a line down the middle and marking one side, “All things Made” and the other side “All things Not Made” Then read verse 3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” And tell them to mark which side Jesus belongs on. If they are intellectually honest, they have to mark the side “All things Not Made.” John expressly states, “without him was NOT ANY THING made that was made.” The logic is very basic. However, because God in His grace has not opened up their eyes to see the truth, they follow a counterfeit Jesus, and therefore they have a counterfeit Christianity, which is of course no Christianity at all.
John makes it explicitly clear the story of Jesus does not begin with Zechariah, it does begin with Isaiah, it does not begin with Abraham, but it begins before all beginnings.
And this is the launching pad for John's Gospel. It is the conclusion in which John proclaims and desires all readers of this book to come to. And we will see that John spends they next next 20 chapters providing eye witness evidence that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on January 3, 2016.
Today we begin our journey through the Gospel of John. Last week I joked about how long this would take us. It may take us one year, it may take us more. It took Pastor John MacArthur 43 years to preach verse by verse through the New Testament. In an interview in 2013 he said that he went through it too fast.
However, there is danger in going to slow. DA Carson in his commentary on the Gospel of John warns against spending too much time in this Gospel, and I would add, in any book of the Bible. The Apostle Paul says this to the Elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:27
Why Expositional Preaching through a Book
As we begin this journey I do want to spend a little bit of time, once again, explaining why we are doing this. We have a fair number of you who have just started to come to Cornerstone so you haven’t heard this before. For those who have, bear with me.
First, there are two ways to preach, topically and preaching through large portions of scripture at a time. Most of you have been raised on topical preaching. This would include sermons on marriage, finances, the incarnation of Christ, etc. In my opinion topical sermons are good, but they have their major disadvantages, such as you are held hostage to the Pastor’s preferences. Because of these pastoral preference, you miss out on a lot of deep and important and sometime difficult Biblical teaching.
When you preach through a text from beginning to end, like we are doing with the Gospel of John, you are required to preach the Word as it comes, whether you like it or not. There is no picking and choosing.
Once again regarding teaching the whole counsel of God, John MacArthur said this, “preaching verse by verse through books of the Bible is the most reasonable way to teach the whole counsel of God. If I am obligated to teach the whole new covenant message and all of the mystery unfolded, the only systematic way that I know to teach it all is to take it the way it comes, one book at a time from beginning to end.“
At Cornerstone Church I have chosen to balance these two preaching techniques, and preach mostly through large portions of the Bible, but in between those times, to pick topics that I believe will be beneficial to us as a local body. I truly believe this is the best approach. So if you are committed to Cornerstone Church and plan on being here for years and decades to come, this is what you can come to expect. And to be honest, my guess is that most of you will prefer when I preach through large sections of the Bible, for there will be a cohesion from Sunday to Sunday, and you will be able to go deeper in the text, perhaps than you have ever gone before.
Context is Crucial
As we begin today, we will start with a brief introduction and we will focus our attention on the context of John. What do I mean by context? By context I mean the genre, the people, the historical setting, and the purpose of this book. We want to set some foundations before we attempt to unpack what the Bible is saying.
Why do we want to do this? Because when you open up the Bible, it should be your goal to get to the absolute truth of a text. It is important for us to recognize that the Bible is not relative, it is unchanging and absolute.
Understanding the context keeps us in check, and gets to the meaning as intended by the original writer. We must never forget that this book was written by a real man named John. He was a real person, in the midst of real circumstances, writing this book with an audience and purpose in mind. This is not to say he was not inspired by the Holy Spirit, for he was. It merely is saying that the Spirit worked through a historical person at a historical moment and conveyed absolute truth. So today, due to our limited time, I will talk briefly about three aspects of the context of John: Genre, Author and Purpose.
First, the genre. By genre we are asking, what literary form is this book? In the Bible there are many different genres. There is the genre of narrative, law, wisdom, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, letters, and Gospel. Figuring out the literary genre helps in determine how to understand the truth that is being proclaimed. For example, if a writing is poetry, they are most likely using some form of imagery and the imagery is not reality, but merely helping you get a picture in your mind of the authors meaning. Narratives on the other hand are factual, and descriptions are historical events.
The Gospel of John, is obviously a gospel. What does this mean? The Word Gospel means good news. The news portion of it is the news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the reporting of actual historical events. The goodness of this news is that the reader, if he believes the news, will be saved from Hell. Understanding that the Gospel of John is a report of historical facts with an end goal of salvation assists us in trying to figure out meaning of certain passages.
Having said that, the Gospel of John is different then the other Gospels. If you have read all of them you will know what I mean. It is truly a gospel that stands out. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are what is known as Synoptic Gospels. The word synoptic means to take a common view. If you read Matthew, Mark, and Luke you will notice a vast amount of similarities. In fact, 90% of Mark is found in Mathew. When studying on part of Luke, you can easily turn to Matthew or Mark and read the parallel accounts from a different vantage point. For John, this is not the case.
For example, take parables. When you think of the Gospels you generally think of Jesus teaching in parables. There is not one parable in the Gospel of John. Interestingly there is also no mention of Jesus casting out demons. No mention of Jesus' temptations. And no mention of the institution of the Lord's Supper, which is interesting because John spends five chapters laying out the events and teaching of the last supper.
Having said that, there are things in John that are not in the Synoptics, such as Jesus turning water into wine, His famous encounter with Nicodemus, His ministry in Samaria, and the resurrection of Lazarus.
It is also interesting to know that not only is the Gospel of John different than the synoptics in substance, but it is also different in form. In my preparation I read or heard two scholars say that the Gospel of John is written in simple Greek, with a very small category of Greek vocabulary. This is somewhat shocking due to the theological depth and richness of what John is saying. However, this should not surprise us for our as we sang earlier, God has ordained His Word for the peasant and the King.
Lastly, regarding the genre. In the Gospel of John we will uncover of variety of dualism, or opposites. Examples of this are light and darkness, life and death, sight and blindness, etc. If you plan to make this the year of John for you both on Sunday mornings and during the week, I would encourage you to spend some time finding and focusing on all of the opposites we will encounter in this simple masterpiece, and ponder what John is attempting to achieve.
Next, regarding context, let us to dwell upon the author. It is commonly believed that this Gospel was written between 70-100 A.D. From the location of Ephesus, and of course it was written by the disciple, John.
This is an important fact for us to remember as we work through this text. Neither Luke or Mark can claim this. Both of their Gospels were a collection of other eye witnesses accounts, this is not true for the Gospel of Mathew and John. In fact, I like the way that John puts it in another book he wrote the book of 1 John 1:1-3.
This is not some radicalized follower decades later. This was an eye witness. An eye witness that was so convinced that Jesus was who he said he was that he gave everything he had to proclaim and testify that he was the Son of God. If you do not believe these words of John, then you have to believe that John was certifiably crazy along with the other disciples. For many people will suffer and die for a lie mistakenly believing that it is true, but no one suffers and dies for a lie that you know is a lie.
The next thing I want us to briefly look at is the beginning of John following Jesus. Turn briefly to Matthew 4:18-22.
Last, I want to us start our journey through this book knowing exactly why it was written. Thankfully, John tells us.
Why was this a goal of Johns? Because it is through believing in Jesus that people will be saved from Hell and live forever with the Lord. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this statement. All eternity hinges on this reality, and John knows it. There is no more important question on the planet and in your life, then who is Jesus.
And with this said, John's purpose, is also my purpose. Over the next year of walking through the Gospel of John, it is my prayer that for you that believe, your faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God will grow stronger and stronger. And this confidence in the Lord will compel you to be like John and spend the rest of your life following and proclaiming these same truths that are found in this Gospel.
It is also my hope that this year as we unpack the Gospel of John, that it will be a year of Kingdom growth. We are three years into Cornerstone Church. God has provided us a place to worship and seats that are empty. Let us spend this year, week in and week out inviting our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Let us invite them so that they may hear these words that are written so that they may also believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they may have eternal life.