Posts Tagged 'Exceptional Bible Verses'

EXCEPTional Bible Verse, Part 9

deliveranceMatthew 12:29

Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. (Matthew 12:29 KJV)

How many times have you gone to the doctor with a sore throat, headache, and stuffy nose only to have him tell you, “You have a headcold”? Well, we know that doctor is a genius! He named your condition, just in case you grew up in a sterile environment and never had a cold before. When you have a sore throat, headache, and stuffy nose, you probably already suspect you have a headcold; what you want from your doctor is not a diagnosis of your condition but relief from your condition, or better yet, a cure!

In life – spiritual life and moral life – there is a lot of diagnosing but not enough curing. It’s one thing to know what ails your life, but it’s another thing to cure it. It’s one thing to know what your spiritual problems are, but it’s something else entirely to cure them. It’s one thing to know your sin problem, but it’s thing to cure it.

Both believers and unbelievers have the exact same issue. A lot of unbelievers have heard the Gospel, they may even know the “Romans Road to Salvation” by heart, but until they actually walk the “Roman’s Road,” they don’t have salvation. A lot of Christians may have walked the “Roman’s Road,” found Jesus as the end of it and accepted His gracious gift of salvation, but they still struggle with their sin sickness, even though the cure is right in front of them. It doesn’t matter what you know; it matters what you do.

The story behind our final EXCEPTional Bible verse really begins back in verse 22, so we’ll start there.

1. The setting

Matthew 12:22 – 45 is a section of this Gospel that shows the contempt and cruelty the Pharisees had in their opposition to Jesus. Here we see the worldliness of their hearts on full display; a dazzling example of how their legalistic religion had failed miserably, as legalism always does.

Then a demon-possessed man—he was both blind and unable to talk—was brought to Jesus, and Jesus healed him so that he could both speak and see. (Matthew 12:22 TLB)

Luke records this miracle in Luke 11, but he doesn’t mention the man’s blindness, only the fact of his inability to talk. Both accounts indicate that this man was demon possessed. Luke, a physician, would know the difference between a physically and mentally disabled man and a demon possessed man. We can be sure, then, that this man was possessed by a Satanic spirit, bent on destroying him.

It’s a remarkable miracle, and yet it’s told with such matter-of-fact brevity. We can only imagine the sense of relief the man must have felt when our Lord healed him! No longer held in a Satanic prison, but set gloriously free. No longer deaf and dumb, but now able to hear and express himself and, we may be sure, able to give praise to God for his amazing healing. Of course, all of this is supposition because the Gospel writers devote a mere verse to this miracle.

Both Matthew and Luke writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, want their readers – and us – to focus, not so much on the deliverance and healing of the demon possessed man, but on the confrontation that follows it.

The crowd was amazed. “Maybe Jesus is the Messiah!” they exclaimed.

But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, “He can cast out demons because he is Satan, king of devils.” (Matthew 12:23 – 24 TLB)

The NIV translates verse 23 a little differently:

All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:23 NIV)

Taylor’s paraphrase captures the sense of the people’s reaction. This miraculous deliverance and healing was so spectacular, some people thought that this Jesus might just be the Messiah, who they knew would be a descendant of David. The people were literally “blown away” by what they had just seen.

Now, the question we need to ask ourselves is this: What kind of Messiah were these people looking for? We know that, generally speaking, the Jewish people of the day were looking for their “rider on a white horse,” a political savior, to swoop down and rescue them from their present difficulties: Roman domination, poverty and misery. In other words, they wanted – and they thought Jesus could be – the MAN with a plan, sent from God to save them; to deliver them from all their earthly problems. People haven’t really changed much since the days of Jesus. People are as clueless as they ever have been. They seriously think life would be “prefect” if only this problem or that problem could be solved. People today are NO different than this man:

…oh, that there were someone who would listen to me and try to see my side of this argument. (Job 31:35 TLB)

That was the cry of Job’s broken heart: if only somebody would listen to his prayers! If only he could get some relief from his problems in life. That’s what these Jews were looking for, that’s what a lot of people today are looking for, and some think that’s all Jesus is good for: a little relief from their problems. Nobody wants to minimize anybody’s problems, but if a person doesn’t have Jesus in their hearts, they don’t know serious their problems really are.

So, the people thought that maybe, just maybe, this Jesus could very well be the Messiah. But what the Pharisees thought was something else again. They actually thought that Jesus had used Satanic powers to work His miracles! They were jealous; they were envious, and they resorted to ridiculous accusations to oppose Jesus’ work. They could feel their power over the people ebbing away as more and more of them began to support Jesus. Their influence was on the wane and they hated Jesus for this. How very different these religious men were from John the Baptist:

So they came to John and said, “Master, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River—the one you said was the Messiah—he is baptizing too, and everybody is going over there instead of coming here to us.”

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. (John 3:26, 30 TLB)

We can see the sad states of their hearts with accusation. Imagine accusing the Son of God of Himself being possessed by Satan! That’s in essence what these Pharisees had just done.

Our Lord, with wisdom and aplomb, answers them in a startling way:

Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “A divided kingdom ends in ruin. A city or home divided against itself cannot stand. And if Satan is casting out Satan, he is fighting himself and destroying his own kingdom. (Mathew 12:25, 26 TLB)

This is a startling response to the Pharisees because Jesus actually “read their minds!” They didn’t say a word to Him Jesus responded to their thoughts. If that’s not a scary proposition, nothing is. You truly can’t hide anything from Jesus, even in your mind.

Jesus’ comments highlight just how ridiculous their thoughts were. The idea that Jesus was possessed by Satan and that He used Satan’s power to fight against Satan was, well, just plain stupid. It would be like a divided kingdom or a city or a home that is divided trying to stand together. It can’t be done.

Then, as if to twist the knife, our Lord ads this:

And if, as you claim, I am casting out demons by invoking the powers of Satan, then what power do your own people use when they cast them out? Let them answer your accusation! (Matthew 12:27 TLB)

Exorcism was not uncommon in Jesus’ day; it was practiced by some Jews, even by Jesus’ disciples on occasion. If Jesus was using Satan’s power to cast out Satan, then what power were they using? He was insulting them, as surely as He Himself was insulted. But He was also pointing out that other Jews were driving out demons and they, the Pharisees, never accused them of being possessed by Satan.

So far, Jesus has really put these Pharisees in their place! He basically accused them of being silly and absurd in their thinking about Him and His power. They saw the same things that the crowd of Jews saw, yet these educated Pharisees drew the completely wrong conclusion about Jesus. The conclusion they reached was absurd; it was the product, not of an educated mind, but of a warped and immature mind.

2. The crux of the matter

But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you. (Matthew 12:28 TLB)

Luke’s version of this statement is curious:

But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20 NIV)

A “finger” is but a tiny part of the body. If Jesus is able to drive out demons by just the smallest part of God’s power, how can the kingdom of Satan possibly stand? This statement is really a statement of fact: Satan’s kingdom is crumbling before the onslaught of the Kingdom of God. In Satan’s kingdom, sin, sickness, confusion all are the norm. But the Kingdom of God has arrived in the Person of its King; sin has been dealt a death blow, the sick have been and are being healed, and in Jesus Christ there is clarity of thought and of purpose. No wonder Satanic activity is on the rise in our day! He knows his time is coming to an end; that his domination of Earth if almost over.

And all this gets us to our EXCEPTional Bible verse:

Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. (Matthew 12:29 KJV)

In one short verse, a tiny parable really, Jesus sheds a little light on the dark world of supernatural evil, allowing us a glimpse at how Satan works. The “strong man” is none other than Satan himself, and the house is really two things: this world of ours and the unregenerate heart.

The world belongs to Satan, temporarily

Many people, Christians included, are under the impression that Satan is in Hell. This isn’t even remotely true. Note carefully Ephesians 6:11 and 12 –

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand safe against all strategies and tricks of Satan. For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against persons without bodies—the evil rulers of the unseen world, those mighty satanic beings and great evil princes of darkness who rule this world; and against huge numbers of wicked spirits in the spirit world. (TLB)

It wasn’t always this way, though. Before the Fall, the crown was on Adam’s head. But after man sinned, Satan became the ruler of the Earth. This is his domain and will remain so until the Lord returns to claim it as His Kingdom on Earth. Yes, Satan is “the strong man,” but the One who is infinitely stronger defeated Him on the Cross and Satan’s days are numbered!

The human heart belongs to Satan, conditionally

Man without Christ is pitiful; he is owned lock, stock, and barrel by Satan. The unredeemed soul is his palace – he owns it outright. Man, through sin, has become the dwelling place for Satan. He may not possess every unsaved soul, but he owns them, and will claim those souls one day.

We know that we are children of God and that all the rest of the world around us is under Satan’s power and control. (1 John 5:19 TLB)

As surely as born again believers are under the influence and control of the Holy Spirit, so the unsaved are held captive and under the sway of Satan and demonic influences.

Once you were under God’s curse, doomed forever for your sins. You went along with the crowd and were just like all the others, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air, who is at work right now in the hearts of those who are against the Lord. (Ephesians 2:1, 2 TLB)

Until the sinner’s condition changes, that sinner will remain Satan’s stooge through all eternity. But this EXCEPTional Bible verse tells us in no uncertain terms that though Satan be strong, Jesus is stronger! Jesus is the One who has come into the strong man’s house to take back what is rightfully His: you and me.

And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them to eternal life at the Last Day. For it is my Father’s will that everyone who sees his Son and believes on him should have eternal life—that I should raise him at the Last Day. (John 6:39, 40 TLB)

EXCEPTional Bible Verse, Part 8

ultimate authority.jpg

John 19:11

Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. (John 19:11 KJV)

From a one perspective, John 19 presents the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of jurisprudence. Rome had become well-known around the world for its system of justice. Most of us are familiar with the two-faced god, Janus. He had one face that looked forward, while the other looked backward. Janus reminded Roman judges to look at both sides of a legal question. But Roman justice came with a high price tag; Rome ruled with an iron fist. Whether you were guilty or innocent, you got justice under Roman law – not mercy, but justice. For over a thousand years, Rome ruled the world, dominating people with the promise of law and order, peace and protection, all under the heavy burden of tyranny and dictatorship. This is why, considering Roman history, what happened to Jesus was a true miscarriage of justice.

Our EXCEPTional Bible verse is Jesus’ response to governor Pilate’s question:

Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or to crucify you?” (John 19:10b TLB)

Let’s take a look at the events that led to Pilate’s question and our Lord’s surprising answer and what all that means to you.

1. Trial before Annas and Caiaphas

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were determined to stop Him at all costs, and they were going to use the courts to do just that. In fact, Jesus had never gone against the law – His Father’s or Rome’s – so these despicable men, puny high priests like Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas, manufactured lies against Jesus that another puny man, a Roman governor named Pilate, would pay attention to.

Jesus was given a preliminary hearing before the proud, ambitious, and wealthy Annus. It was during this time Peter, who was brought by John into the palace where Jesus was being questioned, actually denied knowing Jesus three times!

As if the humiliation Jesus was experiencing while He faced Annus and later the Sanhedrin weren’t enough, He knew a member of His inner circle – and close personal friend – was in the process of disowning Him.

This so-called preliminary hearing was really a joke, as was the mock trial before the Jews. It was a joke because there was absolutely no serious attempt to get at the truth; Jesus’ fate had been decided long ago; the verdict was decided long before Jesus was tried. Annas’ question to Jesus is enlightening because it reveals what he was really interested in:

Inside, the High Priest began asking Jesus about his followers and what he had been teaching them. (John 18:19 TLB)

This corrupt priest was more interested in learning the size of Jesus’ following than what He was teaching them; his interest in Jesus’ teaching was only secondary so as to find a hook on which to hang a charge.

When asked to defend Himself, our Lord responded in a way that resulted in a face-stinging slap:

Ask those who heard me. You have some of them here. They know what I said. (John 18:21 TLB)

Annas wouldn’t even call a witness to see if anything Jesus was teaching was wrong or seditious.

Next, Jesus stood before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin,where He fared no better. Caiaphas was the real high priest who presided over the Sanhedrin, so this was really first trial of Jesus, the trial in the Jewish religious courts. John doesn’t give us any details about what happened here.

2. Before Pilate

Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Next he was taken to the palace of the Roman governor. His accusers wouldn’t go in themselves for that would “defile” them, they said, and they wouldn’t be allowed to eat the Passover lamb. (John 18:28 TLB)

This is an interesting verse because in it, we see the religion of Jews right beside the Person of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the Jewish religion. Here is Jesus Christ, the One who came to fulfill the Passover; Himself the Lamb of God, standing beside the very religious men who have brought charges against Him that will result in His hanging on a Cross. Yet, because these religious men didn’t want to violate their precious religious law, thus keeping them from participating in Passover, they wouldn’t go into the judgment hall. How they loved their religion, while plotting the death of their Savior.

This whole trial before Pilate was a mockery of Roman law as surely as the trials before the high priests was a mockery of Jewish law. Just look at what Pilate had to go through to satisfy these Jews. No wonder he hated living in Jerusalem!

18:20 – Pilate went out (of the hall)

18:33 – Pilate when back in (the hall)

18:38 – Pilate went out (of the hall)

19:1 – Pilate whipped Jesus (in the hall)

19:4 – Pilate went out (of the hall)

19:9 – Pilate came back in again (to the hall)

You can see that Pilate, not a Jew, tried to abide by the Jewish religious laws as he tried to get Jesus of the hook. Pilate knew something was wrong, desperately wrong, with what was going on with Jesus.

Then take him away and judge him yourselves by your own laws,” Pilate told them. (John 18:31 TLB)

This disgruntled Roman governor didn’t want anything to do with Jesus. The problem Pilate was encountering was this: the Jewish religious leaders wanted Jesus dead; they would accept NO other verdict but they, because of Roman law, could not pass a sentence of death. This is what Jesus meant when He said this in Matthew 20:19 –

And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.

Now, the Jews could have had Jesus stoned to death according to their religious law, but remember what was written in Psalm 22 and you’ll realize why the Jews did what they did:

My strength has drained away like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart melts like wax; my strength has dried up like sun-baked clay; my tongue sticks to my mouth, for you have laid me in the dust of death. The enemy, this gang of evil men, circles me like a pack of dogs; they have pierced my hands and feet. I can count every bone in my body. See these men of evil gloat and stare; they divide my clothes among themselves by a toss of the dice. (Psalm 22:14 – 18 TLB)

This was death by crucifixion which only the Romans did. That’s why the Jewish leaders handed our Lord off to Pilate; they didn’t know it, but they were fulfilling Scripture! Yet this man Pilate is truly a pitiful man. He didn’t want anything to do with Jesus. In this, our Roman governor is a lot like people today, who have no problem acknowledging a “higher power,” but when confronted with Jesus, these otherwise reasonable people can get downright testy. What to do with a Man who forces you to make a choice: His way or the wrong way? Yes, Jesus demands people make a choice; either follow Him or remain lost. This is why the world is so opposed to Jesus but not to the idea of “higher power,” whatever its name may be. Belief in a god or even God doesn’t call for commitment or dedication. But faith in Jesus Christ involves those things; it involves living according to HIS will, not yours. And to many people, that’s just offensive.

3. Pilate and Jesus, strange bedfellows

With superstitious fear, Pilate questioned Jesus over and over, trying to figure out a way to get this man off the Jewish hook. But Jesus remained quiet; He wouldn’t speak up in His own defense. Finally, Pilate in exasperation, looked Jesus in the eyes and said this:

Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or to crucify you?” (John 19:10 TLB)

This verse reveals something about Pilate. The question that precedes this one, “To ME you offer silence?”is not a statement of surprise but of offense. Pilate just could not believe that this Jesus wouldn’t speak to Him! Sure, Jesus could talk back to those provincial Jewish priests, but to the almighty governor this prisoner DARES keep His mouth shut? The second question corroborates the first: Pilate had a high estimation of himself for he alone – nobody else – can secure Jesus’ freedom. Pilate was the MAN before all should bow. He was the one the people – people like Jesus – should be thankful for. The crumbs that fell from his table were beneficial crumbs. This was Pilate’s attitude. He was so filled with the pride of his position, he over-spoke the good thing he was trying to accomplish. Was Pilate the whole Roman government? Of course not! Yet here he was talking to Jesus as though he had the power to write his own laws; choosing which laws to enforce and which ones to ignore.

Yes, Pilate is a pitiful figure in this story. He wasn’t nearly as wise as he thought he was and he didn’t have the power he thought he had. Really, all Pilate wanted was to be left alone.

And that gets us to our EXCEPTional verse, Jesus answer to Pilate:

Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. (John 19:11 KJV)

Jesus had to respond to Pilate, for to remain silent would be to agree with the governor’s assessment of his level of power and authority. Jesus had to set this man straight. The word for “power” here is exousia, which means “liberty or power” as in “power to act.” In other words, any authority or power Pilate had was derived and not inherent. Westcott draws an inescapable conclusion:

Human government is only valid as the expression of the divine will.

Woe to the government that governs against the will of God! That government won’t survive.

In comparing Jesus and Pilate, another scholar has made this observation:

Jesus does more than assert His Divine power and origin. He assumes it. In striking contrast, Pilate asserts his power.

In reality, Pilate had NO power to either release Jesus or to crucify Him. But Jesus was not thinking of the Roman government, He was thinking of Himself. Consider this:

No one can kill me without my consent—I lay down my life voluntarily. For I have the right and power to lay it down when I want to and also the right and power to take it again. For the Father has given me this right. (John 10:18 TLB)

You see, Pilate had no power of any kind over Jesus. The only power Pilate had in this instance was the power Jesus gave him. Whatever was happening to Jesus and whatever would happen to Him in the next few hours was what Jesus wanted, not Pilate and not the Jewish religious leaders. Pilate needed to know that the fate of Jesus was not in his hands; but that a greater hand held Pilate.

But Jesus didn’t stop with this government official. It was God’s justice that put Israel under Roman domination. Their present position was a result of God’s punitive action. As surely as Pilate had no inherent power, neither did Caiaphas or the Jewish religious leaders. These men, unscrupulous and cold as Caiaphas was and unscrupulous and weak as Pilate was, were in positions of “power” only because they were tools in God’s hands, exercising His will, not theirs.

Jesus obviously saw something in Pilate because He wanted Pilate to know the truth. It wasn’t Jesus that was on trial here, it was Pilate on trial before Heaven’s Judge. Pilate the judge was being tried by a Judge greater than he. Caiaphas was judged as having committed the “greater sin.”

After all was said and done, Pilate knew Jesus was innocent but washed his hands of the matter. But he could not remove the guilt of his actions that day. Just a few years later, in 36 AD, he was deposed, sent off to Rome to face charges, was banished, eventually killing himself.

Pilate was one who was told the truth, knew some of the truth, but did nothing with it. A lot of people today know the truth of Jesus but, like Pilate, wash their hands of our Lord because they just want to be left alone.  The tragedy is that God will leave them alone – for all eternity, unless they pay attention to Jesus.

EXCEPTional Bible Verses, Part 7

Capture

John 12:24

Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

The Greeks were smart. They came up with the pithy saying:

Pulvis et umbra sumus.

Or, to put it in English:

We are but dust and shadow.

They were sure right about that. They loved to discuss all kinds of things and they really loved to ask questions and learn new things. One day, a group of Greeks wanted to approach Jesus, which resulted in our EXCPETional Bible verse. Let’s take a look at the very important teaching that came out that encounter.

1. The setting

Our Lord’s earthly ministry was coming to an end, He knew it and He wanted His disciples to know it. Jesus had performed one of His most powerful miracles – the raising of His friend Lazarus to life – and that caused a crisis. This miracle was undeniable. Lazarus was well known in his home town of Bethany. Everybody knew he had died, and everybody knew he had come back to life after Jesus’ arrival on the scene and subsequent command:

Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:42b TLB)

The crisis is seen in 11:45 –

And so at last many of the Jewish leaders who were with Mary and saw it happen, finally believed on him. (TLB)

Other Jewish religious leaders weren’t moved and they were worried. More and more of their people were now believing in this trouble maker, Jesus. They could feel their power and influence slipping away. What could they do with this carpenter? How could they silence Him? One of their number, Caiaphas by name, was the voice of reason:

You stupid idiots—let this one man die for the people—why should the whole nation perish?” (John 11:49b, 50 TLB)

This may have bought Jesus some time, but Caiaphas’ common sense didn’t stop other religious leaders from quietly scheming a way to bring Jesus down. For His part, our Lord knew what was going on and took steps to continue His work and to align Himself with Biblical prophecy.

Jesus now stopped his public ministry and left Jerusalem; he went to the edge of the desert, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples. (John 11:54 TLB)

Passover was just around the corner and the Jewish tongues began to wag. Would this miracle worker show up? If He did, what would He do? How can He top raising somebody from the dead? Jesus was the talk of the town, and the chief priest and Pharisees had a plan: if you see something…say something!

Meanwhile the chief priests and Pharisees had publicly announced that anyone seeing Jesus must report him immediately so that they could arrest him. (John 11:57 TLB)

The closing paragraph of chapter 11 serves to set scene for the events surrounding the Passion, trial, and Crucifixion of Jesus. Time was short. Things would start happening in rapid succession.

Still, Jesus had work to do, and part of that work involved stopping in Bethany on the way to Jerusalem to check up on His good friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and to attend a dinner in His honor.

A banquet was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus sat at the table with him. (John 12:2 TLB)

While He was there, Mary famously anointed Jesus’ feet with some very expensive perfume, which was truly the ultimate expression of love and devotion on her part. But Judas wasn’t at all impressed.

That perfume was worth a fortune. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” (John 12:5 TLB)

Of course, Judas wasn’t an altruist; he was in fact a thief and a liar.

Not that he cared for the poor, but he was in charge of the disciples’ funds and often dipped into them for his own use! (John 12:6 TLB)

At any rate, when the townsfolk found out that Jesus was visiting, the crowds massed around the house where He was dining.

When the ordinary people of Jerusalem heard of his arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus—the man who had come back to life again. (John 12:9 TLB)

Onto to Jerusalem, Jesus’ fame and popularity preceded Him. He was welcomed there with all the excitement and enthusiasm of a rock star. The people were filled with a sense of excitement and anticipation as Jesus rode into town. This man Jesus, whatever else He may have been and taught, after that stunning miracle in Bethany, fit the bill as the all-powerful, conquering Hero; the Anointed One; the God-sent Deliverer whom they were waiting for.

2. Here come the Greeks

There were in Jerusalem for Passover a group of Greeks. They were former idolaters who had accepted the essentials of the Jewish religion. They were converts and had heard about the miracle-working Jesus.

Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem to attend the Passover paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida, and said, “Sir, we want to meet Jesus.” Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus. (John 12:19 – 21) TLB

Why these Greeks approached Philip is not known, but he did have a Greek name, so maybe they felt some kinship with him. Philip was a shy individual and he went to Andrew for help, and together they went to Jesus with the Greek’s request, and that gets us to our EXCEPTional Bible verse –

Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12:24 KJV)

Unfortunately for those of us who like details, John never again mentions the Greeks! In verse 23, John wrote that Jesus “answered them.” Whom does that refer to? Some think Jesus was actually talking to the Greeks, others say Jesus was addressing His comments to the disciples. Probably Jesus was talking to both the Greeks, who would have been standing in close proximity to Him, and to His disciples. What He told them showed that Jesus knew His mission was reaching a climax.

The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. (John 12:23 TLB)

What did Jesus mean by this? Some think He was referring to His returning to glory, that is, returning to Heaven. Ken Taylor in his Living Bible seems to take this view. But it seems more likely that Jesus is referring to all the events surrounding His Passion; that is, His persecution, Crucifixion, death and Resurrection. To those that may have overheard what Jesus said,  He meant something entirely different. Remember, this crowd thought Jesus was the promised Deliverer, and the Greeks were part of this crowd. They cheered when He came into town:

…a huge crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him, shouting, “The Savior! God bless the King of Israel! Hail to God’s Ambassador!” (John 12:12b, 13 TLB)

It’s not that they saw Jesus as the Son of God; their interest was in His delivering them from Roman oppression. Of course, Jesus knew this; He knew what was in their hearts, and that’s why He spoke the way He did in our EXCEPTional verse. He was illustrating what He meant by His glorification by telling a sort of parable about corn or grain. Jesus knew His audience. To Nicodemus, Jesus spoke of a serpent being lifted up in the wilderness, but to these Greeks He used a farming metaphor, something they, and regular Jews, would have understood completely. This was a perfect illustration of His death, burial, and resurrection.

What Jesus said in verse 24 was all about Him. He alone would die a substitutionary death and in doing so bear much fruit. But, there is a principle – an application – for all would want to follow Jesus.

If you love your life down here—you will lose it. If you despise your life down here—you will exchange it for eternal glory. (John 12:25 TLB)

Verse 25 was all about the Greeks and the Jews – anybody – who would be interested in following Jesus. These two verses really form a great paradox. Only through death comes life, and only by spending life do we retain life. The idea is clear. If anybody wants to follow Jesus, they can’t cling desperately to the things of this life. In fact, they can’t cling to life, either! The very act of trying to hold on to life or the things of life will result in losing those things. Following Jesus demands single-minded devotion. Jesus taught much the same thing in Luke:

Anyone who wants to be my follower must love me far more than he does his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, or sisters—yes, more than his own life—otherwise he cannot be my disciple. And no one can be my disciple who does not carry his own cross and follow me. (Luke 14:26, 27 TLB)

According to Jesus, if you love anything or anybody more than Him, it’s game over as far as your life is concerned. What you cherish the most will always elude you. The love and devotion you want from your spouse or children, for example, will never be enough. The satisfaction you want from your work or hobby will never materialize. As far as Jesus is concerned, it is sinful to place people or things ahead of your relationship with Him. Lightfoot wrote,

Selfishness is always the death of the true life of man.

Jesus wants from you the same kind of love and devotion He has shown you. And it’s not a surprise; it’s not a case of “bait and switch.” Jesus warned all those who expressed an interest in following Him that they must first “count the cost.”

Here in Jerusalem during this Passover, Jesus’ popularity was at an all-time high. He was like a hero to the working classes; a deliverer; a Savior who would do for them what no political leader could do. They clamored to get close to Him. They worshiped Him. But they were in no way devoted to Him. To this day, Jesus is an attractive figure. People are still being drawn to Him; to what He can do for them. Do you know how many lonely, depressed, unfulfilled people have come to Christ because of what they see in churches? They see the kind of love and camaraderie between believers and desperately want that. And it’s theirs, but they must want Jesus most of all. This is why churches all over are so full of Christians who are just as lonely, just as depressed, just as unfulfilled as they were before: because they want what Jesus can give them, not what they should be giving Him.

If these Greeks want to be my disciples, tell them to come and follow me, for my servants must be where I am. And if they follow me, the Father will honor them. (John 12:26 TLB)

The apostle Paul considered service to be what a follower of Jesus should be rendering their Lord:

I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? (Romans 12:1 TLB)

This is what you owe Christ. From service comes what you are looking for. As you do for Christ, He will honor you. Casual followers of Jesus – Sunday Christians – have no clue what real living is; what real life is. They have experienced the minimal blessings that could be theirs. Come to Jesus, yes. Confess Jesus, yes. But be devoted to Him; be consecrated to Him; serve Him.

EXCEPTional Bible Verses, Part 6

wine and bread 

John 6:52—59

 

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  (John 6:53  KJV)

One of the most quoted and oft discussed passages of Scripture was really the result of confusion.  Jesus had been teaching some Jews about His divinity. 

“What?” they exclaimed. “Why, he is merely Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know. What is this he is saying, that he came down from heaven?”  (John 6:42  TLB)

These Jews were befuddled by things Jesus had been saying to them.   This was the group that had been miraculously fed by Jesus previously, and this day they had tracked Him down looking for more free food.  Jesus saw the vast crowd following Him and He knew their hearts; He knew they were only following Him around for what they could get out of Him—things like a piece of toast!  To this attitude, Jesus said:

Yes, I am the Bread of Life! When your fathers in the wilderness ate bread from the skies, they all died. But the Bread from heaven gives eternal life to everyone who eats it. I am that Living Bread that came down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread shall live forever; this Bread is my flesh given to redeem humanity.  (John 6:48—51  TLB)

This statement of our Lord’s didn’t help their confusion at all.  These Jews were unspiritual people; their faith revolved around laws and regulations, and the things of the Spirit were completely lost on them.  To them, it sounded a lot like Jesus was teaching that men should literally eat His flesh, as though they were cannibals. 

Then the Jews began arguing with each other about what he meant. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they asked.  (John 6:52  TLB)

Now, of course, Jesus was not speaking literally but figuratively of His atonement.  But like most people, they stumbled over Jesus’ teaching concerning the Cross.  The apostle Paul noticed this and wrote about it:

So when we preach about Christ dying to save them, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.  (1 Corinthians 1:23  TLB)

If we look at their question closely, we notice how insidious it really was.  Their question was not, “How are we supposed to eat…” but rather, “How is God able…”  In other words, these Jews did not question their ability to eat Christ’s flesh, but Christ’s ability save them through His work.  Imagine questioning God’s ability to save!  Well, that’s what these people were really doing. 

Jesus has one more go with these dense people, and He certainly doesn’t tone it down one bit!  In fact, Jesus goes even further.  If they were befuddled before, now they’re truly “lost in space!”  And this takes us to our sixth EXCEPTional Bible verse:

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  (John 6:53  KJV)

First cannibalism, now vampirism!   We can only imagine what these people thought about our Lord this day.

1.  Christianity:  Exclusive

In 21st century America we are supposed to be “inclusive.”  It’s the word-of-the-day these days, yet it does not and never has applied to Christianity.  Only in the minds of the most liberal, progressive “Christian” is the church “a big tent.”  It is not.  Jesus’ answer to this group of Jews illustrates just how exclusive true Christianity is.  Only those who eaten the flesh of Jesus and drank His blood have His life in them.  Period.

Well, this must have disgusted the Jews, but not for the reason you may be thinking.  Our Lord had not set out to shock or offend these people this day.  When people, like these Jews, get offended with the words of Christ, it is completely without cause.  Unbelief always takes offense when it hears the truth.  We may understand their befuddlement with “eating Christ’s flesh,” but  now “drinking His blood” has been added to the mix.  At this point, the truth probably began to dawn on them; now they began to grasp what Jesus had been saying.  His words finally began to make sense, and they didn’t like what they heard one bit.  At the mention of “blood,” their Jewish  minds would have flashed back to this verse:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given you the blood to sprinkle upon the altar as an atonement for your souls; it is the blood that makes atonement because it is the life.  (Leviticus 17:11  TLB)

The symbolism of what our Lord was teaching was dawning on them.  To these Jews, blood was the seat of life; it represented life and it cleansed the soul from sin.  By adding “my blood,” the mind shifted from cannibalism to atonement; the nature of Christ’s sacrifice came to the fore:  He was going to offer His life.  He will shed His blood and salvation was by accepting and receiving Him in a most intimate way.

That is exclusive!  Salvation is not a matter of memorizing a list of rules and regulations.  Eternal life is not found in any man’s teaching or by joining some organization.  Only by accepting Christ’s sacrifice for your sins and appropriating His work for you on the Cross by faith can you gain eternal life. 

2.  Communion

This teaching of Jesus forms the basis for what we call “the Lord’s Supper” or “Holy Communion.”   Some churches—primarily the Roman Catholic Church and a few Protestant denominations—refer to this ceremony as a “sacrament,” while most evangelical/Protestant churches call it an “ordinance.”  Which is it?  And what’s the difference?  A “sacrament” is defined as “a sign or a rite which results in God’s grace being conveyed to the individual.”  This, of course, goes against what the Bible actually teaches:  that grace is not given through outward symbols and no ritual is “necessary for salvation.” Grace is free—it is offered by God.

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.  (Titus 3:4—7  HCSB)

An “ordinance,” on the other hand, is a symbolic reenactment of the gospel message that Christ lived, died, was raised from the dead, ascended to heaven, and will someday return. Rather than requirements for salvation, ordinances are visual aids to help us better understand and appreciate what Jesus Christ accomplished for us in His redemptive work. Ordinances are determined by three factors: they were instituted by Christ, they were taught by the apostles, and they were practiced by the early church.  (S. Michael Houdmann)  This is why virtually all evangelical/Protestant churches call “Holy Communion” an ordinance.

Zwingli, the great Swiss Reformer, arguably came closest to pure Biblical theology when he taught that what Jesus is talking about in these verses, and what we celebrate once a month in our church, is wholly a spiritual and commemorative exercise; that grace is not given or received.  In celebrating Communion, believers remember, celebrate, and commemorate Christ’s work for them on the Cross.  The “bread and the wine” are elements that represent the Body and blood of Christ and the bread and the wine of what we have come to call the Last Supper.  As we eat together, we are really doing two things.  First, we are doing something Jesus asked us to do:

Do this in remembrance of me whenever you drink it.  For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you are retelling the message of the Lord’s death, that he has died for you. Do this until he comes again.  (1 Corinthians 11:25b, 26  TLB)

And, second, as we eat the bread and drink the juice (or wine), we are showing actually what has happened spiritually: we have accepted what Christ’s sacrifice did for us and we have received His life.

Everyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood is in me, and I in him.  (John 6:56  TLB)

How important is “eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus?”  Jesus tells us in verse 54—

But anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him at the Last Day.   (John 6:54  TLB)

Lenki said it best:

As eating and drinking receives food to be assimilated in the body, so believing receives Christ with the atonement made through his sacrificial flesh and blood.

As food and drink nourishes and sustains our physical body, so Holy Communion nourishes and sustains our spiritual life.

3.  Joined to Christ

I live by the power of the living Father who sent me, and in the same way those who partake of me shall live because of me!   (John 6:57  TLB)

The symbolic eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood shows the kind of intimate relationship He wants with us.  To “eat and drink” means to be spiritually joined to Christ.  He is in us and we are in Him.  This, of course, takes faith on our part.  Our union with and to Christ must be taken by faith; the life we receive from our relationship with Christ is received by faith and can be traced right back to its source:  God the Father.  This was the life in Jesus, and it is the life in  us through Jesus.

This is why celebrating Communion is so important and far more than just a mindless ritual.  Christians need to be reminded often what Jesus did for them and in them, and our Lord in His wisdom, gave the church the means to make this happen. 

For I [Paul] received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  (1 Corinthians 11:23—26  NIV)


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