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Lesson 8: Friends Bring Friends to Jesus (John 1:35-51)

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April 14, 2013

If you’ve never watched “The Gospel Blimp,” I encourage you to do so (you can watch a fuzzy version of the 1967 film at It’s a hilarious satire of some well-meaning but misguided Christians who want to share the gospel with their neighbors. They get together to strategize about how to do it, a blimp flies over, and someone comes up with the idea of getting a blimp and using it to preach the gospel to the entire city.

So they raise the money, buy some land for the hangar, and get the blimp. The whole operation requires a corporation, a board of directors, an office, and much more. The guy who came up with the plan quits his job and goes full time with the blimp. Eventually he hires a PR agent who outfits him in a uniform and promotes his image as “the Commander.” He has to neglect his family to play golf with important contacts, but the cause is worth it!

They finally get the blimp airborne and it rains down cellophane-wrapped tracts all over the city. But the people in the town are annoyed at having their yards littered with these droppings from the sky. Next they outfit the blimp with a loud PA system and make themselves even more obnoxious to everyone.

But one guy decides to leave the board of the blimp. Meanwhile, the board sees him going to the beach on Saturday with his beer-drinking neighbor. They’re concerned that he’s becoming “worldly.” By the end of the movie, he and his wife have led their neighbors to Christ. But the blimp crowd still doesn’t get it.

The message of that movie is that the best way to share the gospel with your neighbors is to befriend them and tell them about Jesus. That’s the message of John 1:35-51:

Because Jesus is the Savior that everyone needs, friends bring friends to Him.

John the Baptist points two of his disciples (Andrew and probably John) to Jesus as the Lamb of God (1:35-36). They follow Jesus and Andrew finds his brother Simon Peter and brings him to Jesus (1:41-42). Jesus finds Philip and says to him (1:43), “Follow Me.” Philip quickly finds Nathanael and tells him (1:45), “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote.” Although Nathanael was skeptical, Philip simply replies (1:46), “Come and see.” And so Nathanael met Jesus. All of these men’s lives were drastically changed because they met Jesus.

1. Jesus is the only Savior that everyone needs.

The Gospel of John is all about who Jesus is and the first chapter gets a running start in telling us. We have seen that He is the eternal Word who was in the beginning with God and who was God (1:1). Jesus has life in Him and that life is the light of men (1:4). He is the true light that enlightens every man (1:9). He gives to all that believe in Him the right to become children of God (1:12). The Word also became flesh and dwelt among us, glorious as the only begotten or unique Son of the Father (1:14). He is full of grace and truth (1:14). He is greater than John the Baptist, who testified of Him (1:15). He is greater than Moses and the Law (1:17). He is the only begotten God who explains the Father to us (1:18). He is the Lord (1:23). He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29). He is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (1:33). He is the Son of God (or, chosen One of God; 1:34).

Our text repeats some of these for emphasis, bringing out no less than 12 truths about who Jesus is as John shows us five men who meet Jesus and follow Him. Remember, John’s overall purpose for writing is (20:31) “so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

(1). Jesus is the Lamb of God (1:36).

John 1:35-37: “Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” John has mentioned and will continue to mention a sequence of days. Some have suggested that since John 1:1 begins the same way as Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning,” that John is outlining a new creation that centers in Jesus Christ. It has also been pointed out that the sequence of days in John 1:19-2:1 parallels to some degree the last week of Jesus’ life introduced in John 12:1 (see Merrill Tenney, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank Gaebelein [Zondervan], pp. 38-39). At the very least, it conveys a vivid recollection of an eyewitness who remembered this life-changing week when he and some others, who eventually became Jesus’ apostles, met the Savior.

Last week we looked in detail at John’s proclamation in 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” We saw that it focuses on Jesus as the supreme and final sacrifice for sinners that all of the Old Testament sacrifices pointed toward. Whether the two disciples, Andrew and John, were not present the day before when John made that proclamation or whether it took the second time on the second day to sink in, we don’t know. But they knew that they were sinners who needed Jesus as their Lamb, so they followed Jesus.

(2). Jesus is the Teacher or “Rabbi” (1:38, 49).

John translates the term for his Greek readers. “Rabbi” was an honorary title that students would use to address their teachers. Even the Pharisee, Nicodemus, addressed Jesus as “Rabbi” (3:2). Of course, Jesus is the Teacher, par excellence (13:13-14). We all should be students of His teachings and His example.

(3). Jesus is the Messiah (1:41).

Again John translates the term. “Messiah” (used only here and in 4:25 in the NT) means “Anointed One” in Hebrew; in Greek, Anointed One is “Christ.” In the Old Testament, “Anointed One” is used of the king of Israel (1 Sam. 6:16; 2 Sam. 1:14), the high priest (Lev. 4:3), and of the patriarchs (Ps. 105:15). Daniel (9:25, 26) refers to “Messiah the Prince” in his prophecy of the 70 weeks. It’s a title for the one prophesied of in the Old Testament who would be supremely God’s anointed prophet, priest, and king.

(4). Jesus is the authoritative Lord who changes people for His sovereign purposes (1:42).

Andrew found first his own brother Simon and brought him to Jesus. Then we read (1:42), “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” “Cephas” (which John again translates for his Greek readers) comes from the Aramaic word for rock, and Peter is the Greek word for rock. But John’s focus here is not so much on the meaning of the name, but rather on Jesus’ authority over people and His power to change them into what He wants them to be so that He can use them in His sovereign purposes.

It would be rather unnerving to meet a man only to have the first words out of his mouth be the audacious declaration that he is changing your name! Our name is our identity! Jesus didn’t ask Simon if it would be okay with him if He changed his name. He didn’t suggest it as a possibility and say, “Think about it for a while; maybe it will grow on you.” Rather, Jesus declares authoritatively, “You are Simon; you shall be called Peter.” Got it? As the Sovereign Lord, He has that kind of authority over us!

(5). Jesus is He of whom the Old Testament speaks (1:45).

“We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote.” The Law and the Prophets is a common term to refer to all of the Old Testament. There are over 300 prophecies plus many types in the Old Testament that point to Jesus (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46).

(6). Jesus is of Nazareth, the son of Joseph (1:45).

John often uses irony and this is probably an instance of it. Actually, Jesus was born in Bethlehem and was not the biological son of Joseph. He grew up in Nazareth and was “as supposed the son of Joseph” (Luke 3:23). It was commonly rumored that Jesus was born of fornication (John 8:41). But Philip’s description of Jesus brings out His humanity: He was a man who came from a small town in Galilee, raised by Joseph who was married to Mary. John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 75) points out that although Philip erroneously thought that Jesus was a native of Nazareth and the son of Joseph, he led Nathanael to the Son of God who was born in Bethlehem. Sometimes God overrules our inaccurate witness to bring people to the truth about Jesus!

(7). Jesus is the omniscient One who knows each person (1:47-48).

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, He said (1:47), “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael was startled that Jesus seemed to know him even before they met, but then Jesus adds to it (1:48), “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Apparently, Nathanael had been sitting under a fig tree, meditating on the story in Genesis 28 about Jacob’s ladder (1:51). Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of Nathanael’s character and his private activity was enough for him to declare (1:49), “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”

Jesus has a way of unmasking us and boring into our souls to reveal what we really are. He later reveals that He knew what Thomas had said privately to the other disciples about touching Jesus’ wounds (20:25, 27). Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” Jesus (the Word) knows all about you, so it’s pointless to try to hide from Him. The good news is that He loves you in spite of knowing all about you, and He wants to change you for the good!

(8). Jesus is the Son of God (1:49).

This is a Messianic title. In the Old Testament, Israel is God’s son (Exod. 4:22-23; Deut. 1:31; 32:6; Jer. 31:9, 20; Hos. 11:1), and in John, Jesus is presented as the true Israel (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 162). But “Son of God” also refers to God’s promises to David that one of his sons would sit on the throne of Israel forever (2 Sam. 7:12, 16; Ps. 2:7; Matt. 22:42-45). Nathanael was probably referring to this Messianic designation of “Son of God.” But as John’s Gospel shows, the title also describes Jesus as the eternal Son of God, in intimate relationship with the Father as the second person of the Trinity. Thus, “Nathanael spoke better than he knew” (Carson, ibid.).

(9). Jesus is the King of Israel (1:49).

This was also a Messianic term, related to the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:12). At this point, Nathanael and the others who meet Jesus and proclaim Him to be the Messiah and King have a political understanding of those terms. They think that He will free Israel from Roman rule and usher in a new Davidic age of peace and prosperity. They still need to learn that His kingdom was not of this world (6:15; 12:13; 18:33-37; 19:19). But at least at this point, by acknowledging Jesus as the King of Israel, Nathanael is acknowledging Him to be his own King (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 168). So should we!

(10). Jesus is the only bridge between heaven and earth (1:51).

Jesus tells Nathanael (1:51), “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” In 1:50, the pronouns (“you”) are singular, but in 1:51, “you” is plural. Jesus addresses this promise to these five disciples. This is the first time Jesus uses the double affirmation, “Truly, truly,” which occurs only in John and points to a significant truth to follow. As I said, Nathanael had probably been meditating on Jacob’s dream about the ladder between heaven and earth with the angels ascending and descending on it. But here, they ascend and descend on Jesus. He is the only way to the Father (14:6), the only link between heaven and earth. By seeing the heavens opened, Jesus is promising the disciples that they will have greater visions of divine truth (Carson, p. 163). We can only know the Father through believing in Jesus the Son.

(11). Jesus is the dwelling place of God with us (1:51).

This also stems from the imagery of 1:51, relating to Jacob’s dream. After his dream, Jacob declared (Gen. 28:16), “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” He added (28:17), “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So he named that place “Bethel” (“House of God”). Jesus is the new dwelling place of God with man (14:23). We are to abide in Him (15:4).

(12). Jesus is the coming Son of Man (1:51).

“Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite way to refer to Himself (12x in John; 66x in the Synoptic Gospels). The term comes from Daniel 7:13-14, where Daniel sees one like a Son of Man who approaches the Ancient of Days, who gives to Him an everlasting kingdom. Since Jesus refers to these verses at His trial to testify to the high priest that He is coming again in power and glory (Matt. 26:64), there may be an allusion in John 1:51 to the second coming (J. C. Ryle and James Boice both take it this way).

Leon Morris (pp. 172-173) points out four reasons that Jesus adopted this term for Himself. First, it was a rare term without nationalistic associations. People would not view Him as a political Messiah. Second, it had overtones of divinity (because of its connection with Daniel 7:13-14). Third, He adopted it because it implies the redeemed people of God. Fourth, it had undertones of humanity. Morris says (ibid.) “He took upon Him our weakness. It was a way of alluding to and yet veiling His messiahship, for His concept of the Messiah differed markedly from that commonly held.” He adds (p. 173), in the Gospel of John “the term is always associated either with Christ’s heavenly glory or with the salvation He came to bring.”

All of these gloriously piled up terms to describe Jesus show us that He is the only Savior that everyone needs. I had hoped to go through these verses and elaborate more on these five men who found Jesus, but I’ll have to do that next time. But to conclude, note that …

2. Because of who Jesus is, friends bring friends to Him.

One striking thing in the Gospel accounts about how people met Jesus as Savior is the variety of circumstances and the variety of gospel presentations. The gospel message is always the same, but there was no uniform, memorized gospel presentation. While it’s not wrong to learn a gospel presentation, such as the Four Spiritual Laws or the Evangelism Explosion outline or the Way of the Master approach, we need to be careful to tailor it to each person as best we can. Notice the different ways these men came to Jesus:

The first two, Andrew and presumably John, were disciples of John the Baptist. They heard him declare Jesus to be the Lamb of God and they followed Jesus (1:36-37). John means that they followed Jesus literally, walking after Him (1:38), but he probably also means that they began to follow Jesus as His disciples. Jesus’ opening words to Philip were, “Follow Me!” There is no such thing as truly believing in Jesus as your Savior and not following Him obediently as your Lord.

John the Baptist was content to let his disciples go after Jesus. The goal of every disciple-maker is not that his disciples would follow him, but that they would follow Jesus. Also as I mentioned, there is no indication that these men followed Jesus the first time when John declared Him to be the Lamb of God. But the second time, the message hit home. Studies have shown that on the average, it takes seven times for a person to hear the gospel before he believes. So keep telling people about Jesus, even if they’ve heard it before. You may or may not see the person respond, but the seed of the gospel may eventually sprout.

Note also that it is by exalting Christ that people are drawn to Him (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], 3:68). John proclaimed Jesus to be the Lamb of God, and that resonated with Andrew and John who felt the need for a Savior from their sins. Andrew told Peter that they had found the Messiah, which intrigued Peter enough to go see for himself. Philip extolled Jesus to Nathanael as the one about whom Moses and the Prophets wrote. Although Nathanael was skeptical at first, Philip’s gentle invitation, “Come and see,” drew Nathanael to the Savior. Jesus called Philip directly and with authority: “Follow Me!” We have no idea how much Philip knew about Jesus before this, but something about Jesus’ manner and command drew Philip after Him.

Also, you never know how God may use your witness. Andrew’s witness brought Peter to Christ. Andrew never preached to large crowds (so far as Scripture records), but his one on one witness to Peter led to thousands coming to Christ when Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost. Peter became the leader of the twelve and Andrew was apparently content to let him take that role. Every time we encounter Andrew in John’s Gospel, he is bringing someone to Jesus (6:8; 12:22). That’s not a bad legacy!

Few people would know the name of Edward Kimball. He was a Sunday School teacher who led one of his pupils, D. L. Moody, to Christ. Kimball was a timid, soft-spoken man. He decided to talk with Moody, who was a 19-year-old shoe salesman, about his soul. Moody was untaught and ignorant about the Bible at this point. When Kimball got near the store where Moody worked, he almost chickened out. But he finally went for it, stumbled over his words, and said later that he never could remember exactly what he said—just something about Christ and His love. He admitted that it was a weak appeal. But Moody gave his heart to Christ then and there. Later God used Moody mightily to lead thousands to Christ in America and England. His impact continues today through Moody Bible Institute, where thousands of Christian workers have been trained and sent out all over the world (from John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men [W Publishing Group], pp. 69-70).


But the point is, Jesus didn’t launch His kingdom through a mass mailing or by preaching to large crowds at an evangelistic campaign. There was no corporate headquarters or organization. There was no Gospel Blimp! It began quietly with two of John the Baptist’s disciples. Andrew told his brother. Probably, John also later told his brother, James. Philip told Nathanael. All of them recognized in Jesus the Savior that they needed. They all got excited about who Jesus was and that excitement spilled over into telling their relatives and friends.

That’s how the Lord wants the good news to spread out from us. If you’re excited about Jesus, then tell your family and friends about Him. Make a list of the 8-15 people with whom you have regular contact, who don’t know the Lord. Begin praying for opportunities to talk to them about their need for Jesus. Because everyone is a sinner alienated from God and because Jesus is the only Savior who bridges the chasm between us and God, friends want to bring their friends to Him.

Application Questions

  1. Have you ever had someone you were “discipling” leave you to move on in his Christian life? How did it make you feel? Glad? Sad? Mixed? Why?
  2. It’s often difficult to turn a conversation toward spiritual things. What are some effective ways to do this?
  3. How aggressive should we be in sharing our faith with close family members or friends? Is there a rule of thumb to follow?
  4. What is your biggest obstacle that keeps you from telling others about Jesus? Fear of what they may think? Lack of biblical knowledge? Fear about not being able to answer objections? Lack of opportunities? How can these obstacles be overcome?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Christology, Discipleship, Evangelism, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 9: Meeting Jesus (John 1:35-51)

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April 21, 2013

It would be a wonderful experience to go around the room and let each person tell how he or she came to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We all have different stories and experiences.

Some of you, like me, grew up in the church. My parents had grown up as “cultural Christians” from the Midwest, but they came to personal faith in Christ in the first year of their marriage. One of my earliest memories is when I was three-years-old. My mother was ironing and my dad, who was going to school full time plus working a full time job, was still in bed. I told my mom that I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart. So we woke up my dad and knelt by the bed while I prayed. Was I saved then? Probably not, but it was a beginning on the path toward Christ. Other commitments to Christ followed over the years. I can’t say exactly when I was born again. But during my first two years of college, I made a commitment to follow Jesus as my Savior and Lord.

Others of you came from unbelieving homes, where the name of Christ was only used as a swear word. Perhaps your home had constant fighting, abusive speech, and multiple divorces. You lived in fear that your parents (or the current boyfriend) would fly into a rage and hit you. You didn’t know what love and kindness were. But then you heard about the love of the Savior, who gave Himself on the cross to redeem you from all your sins. You came to Him and found the love that you had never known.

Probably some of you were going full-bore in sin. You lived to do whatever felt good at the moment. But there was always an emptiness of soul that these momentary pleasures could not satisfy. Someone shared with you about the lasting peace and joy that only Christ can give. You turned from your sin and asked God to apply the blood of Christ to your guilty soul.

There are probably as many stories as there are people here, because we’re all different and we met Christ in different circumstances and through different means. But if you truly know Christ as your Savior and Lord, you know that there is a vast difference between knowing about Christ and knowing Christ personally. If you grew up in a religious home, you knew about Christ, but that didn’t change your life. But coming to know Christ personally changes you. Your desires and focus for life change. As Paul put it (2 Cor. 5:17), “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Meeting Jesus personally will change your life forever.

In John 1:35-51, we read the story of five men who met Jesus at the start of His ministry, as told by one of the men, the apostle John (probably the unnamed disciple mentioned in 1:35-40). The firsthand nature of his account is seen in his mention of the successive days of these events (1:29, 35, 43, 2:1) and the time of day when he met Jesus (1:39, “the tenth hour,” probably about 4 p.m.). All of these men met Jesus personally and began to follow Him. Eventually He called them to be His apostles. But here, they meet Him and He invites them to follow Him as disciples (or learners).

Last week, we looked at these verses from the standpoint of how Christ’s kingdom began simply and expanded when friends told their friends about Jesus and brought them to Him. But I couldn’t cover everything in that message, so today we’re going to work through it again from the perspective of how when we meet Jesus personally and begin to follow Him, He changes us and uses us for His kingdom purposes. If I skip over something in this message, hopefully I covered it last week, so I refer you there.

1. There is far more about Jesus Christ than we can ever know.

Last time we did an overview of what John 1 tells us about Jesus. Without going through the wonderful testimony of John 1:1-34, in 1:35-51 we saw that Jesus is proclaimed as the Lamb of God (1:36); the Teacher (1:38, 49); the Messiah (1:41); and, the authoritative Lord who changes people for His sovereign purposes (1:42). He the one of whom the Old Testament speaks (1:45). As a man, Jesus is of Nazareth, the son of Joseph (1:45); He is the omniscient one who knows each person (1:47-48). Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel (1:49); He is the only bridge between heaven and earth; the dwelling place of God with us; and, He is the coming Son of Man (1:51). This bears repeating because seeing the wonderful person of the Lord Jesus Christ draws us to Him. As we see more of who He is, we are changed into His likeness (2 Cor. 3:18).

That’s just a summary of who Jesus is from our text! When you realize that all of the Old and New Testaments proclaim who Jesus is, you can see that there are far more glorious truths about Jesus than we can ever know. When you meet a new friend, you begin with an introduction and then you spend time over the years getting better acquainted. So it is with Jesus (except that the years will continue throughout eternity; Eph. 2:7). But the question is, are you spending consistent time alone with Jesus now, getting to know Him through His Word, so that He might dwell in your heart through faith (Eph. 3:17)? Relationships take time and effort!

2. We begin with Jesus by trusting Him as the Lamb of God who takes away our sin (Andrew and John; 1:35-40).

Andrew and John were already disciples of John the Baptist, who was preaching a message of repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3). Although they had grown up in good Jewish homes and had practiced all of the prescribed rituals and sacrifices, these two young men came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit that they were sinners. They knew that their religious activities and heritage could not atone for their sins. And so they were baptized by John.

But John kept speaking of the One who was coming after him, the thong of whose sandals he was not worthy to untie (1:27). John denied being the Messiah, but said that he was merely a voice crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” (1:23). When John saw Jesus and proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (1:29, 36), that was all that Andrew and John needed to say, “We’re going to follow the Lamb! We need Him to be our Lamb, to take away our sins!”

To become a Christian you must become aware that you are a sinner in the sight of holy God and that all of your good works can never atone for your sins. You can never work your way to heaven by your good deeds. You need a Savior and Jesus is that Savior, the Lamb of God, whose death on the cross was the culmination of the entire Jewish sacrificial system. God didn’t sacrifice His own dear Son as an example so that basically good people could learn how to be even better. God gave His Son to save sinners who cannot in any way save themselves. Just as the Jews in the Old Testament looked in faith to their sacrifices as God’s ordained means of forgiveness in that era, so we must look in faith to Jesus as the Lamb of God who died to pay for our sins.

When Andrew and John began to follow after Jesus, He turned and saw them and said (1:38), “What do you seek?” This is the same Jesus who, a few verses later, tells Nathanael that He knew his character and his actions before He ever met him! So Jesus didn’t ask Andrew and John what they were seeking because He lacked information. Rather, He asked them the question so that they would think about it. “What are you seeking by following Me? Do you want status and power by being on the inside circle when I come into My kingdom? Do you want Me to give you a comfortable life with plenty of material benefits, free from pain and sorrow? Do you want Me to forgive your sins and give you inner peace? What do you seek?” He asks you the same question!

I remember that when I confirmed my commitment to Christ as a teenager, one of the things that I sought was a happy marriage. The assistant pastor in our church was in his late twenties and happily married. I thought, “If the Lord can give me a happy marriage like that, then it’s worth it to follow Him.” That was an immature and self-centered reason to follow the Lord! He rightly could have said, “Get lost kid! Come back when you have some better reasons for following Me!” But, He graciously took me in at that infantile stage of faith and began to work with me.

Andrew and John answer (1:38), “Rabbi, where are You staying?” It seems like an odd reply to Jesus’ question. Probably they wanted more time with Him than a roadside talk would provide (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 156). John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 71) saw in their reply the lesson that “we ought not to be satisfied with a mere passing look, but that we ought to seek his dwelling, that he may receive us as guests.” He explains, “For there are very many who smell the gospel at a distance only, and thus allow Christ suddenly to disappear, and all that they have learned concerning him to pass away.” The point is, if you have met Christ as your Savior, then you’ll want to spend more time with Him to learn more about Him. It was only after Andrew and John spent that evening with the Lord that they became witnesses to the others.

Jesus’ reply is always His invitation to all seeking hearts (1:39), “Come, and you will see.” If you’ve never met Jesus as your Savior, He invites you (Matt. 11:28-30), “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” If you’ve met Him as Savior, His invitation to you each morning is (John 21:12), “Come and have breakfast.” Find in Jesus each morning nourishing food for your soul.

3. Jesus begins with us where we’re at, but He changes us into what He wants us to be (Peter; 1:41-42).

After their evening with Jesus, Andrew immediately found his brother Simon and said to him (1:41), “We have found the Messiah,” which John translates for his Greek readers as “the Christ.” As we saw last time, it points to Jesus as God’s anointed prophet, priest, and king, prophesied of in the Old Testament.

You may wonder how the disciples knew at this early stage that Jesus was the promised Messiah when the Synoptic Gospels indicate that they didn’t seem to understand truly who He was until much later. It wasn’t until Matthew 16:16 when Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But here Andrew is proclaiming Jesus as the Christ from the outset.

The answer is probably that the disciples, like many in that day, were looking for the Messiah. But they had a different idea of what that Messiah would be and what He would do for them than what Jesus came to do (Morris, p. 160). You’ll recall that even right after Peter gave his great confession of Jesus as the Christ, he rebuked Jesus for saying that He was going to be killed and raised up on the third day (Matt. 16:21-23). That didn’t fit with Peter’s expectation of the Messiah as a conquering King whose rule would usher in a golden age for Israel. The disciples had to learn that He was the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 before He would return as the King over the nations (Rev. 19:11-16).

But Jesus took Andrew and John and Peter where they were at and began immediately to mold them into what He wanted them to be. As we saw last time, Jesus’ opening words to Peter must have been a bit jarring (1:42), “‘You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” How would you feel if the first words out of the mouth of someone you just met were to change your name? Peter may have thought, “I need to run for cover!” But there was something so captivating about Jesus that Peter submitted to Jesus’ agenda for his life.

Jesus has that kind of authority and power. He begins with us right where we’re at, but He changes us into what He wants us to be. If I were Jesus and knew what He knew about Peter, I might have said, “Nice to meet you, Simon,” and left it at that. Jesus knew beforehand that Peter would fail Him miserably, but He also knew how He would change Peter into the bold apostle who preached on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 were saved.

In the same way, Jesus knows all about you and your future before you ever meet Him. He graciously begins with you in your immaturity and selfish reasons for following Him, but He gradually begins to teach you that following Him means denying yourself and taking up your cross (Matt. 16:24-27). He shows you how much you must suffer for His name’s sake (Acts 9:16).

We’ve seen that there is far more about Jesus than we can ever know. We begin with Him by trusting Him as our Lamb that God has provided to take away our sins. Jesus begins with us where we’re at, but He begins to change us into what He wants us to be.

4. We continue with Jesus by following Him as Lord (Philip; 1:43-44).

In 1:43, “he purposed” could refer to Andrew or to Peter. D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 157) argues that it is Andrew because it enforces the point “that everyone else who comes to Jesus in this chapter does so because of someone else’s witness.” This supports John’s practical emphasis on the importance of our witness for Christ. But most commentators and translations (NASB, ESV, NIV, NKJV) understand “he” to refer to Jesus. At any rate, as soon as Jesus and Philip meet, Jesus says, “Follow Me.”

All that we know about Philip (apart from his name in the lists of apostles) we learn in the Gospel of John. We don’t know how much he knew about Jesus before this initial encounter. Either before or shortly after he knew that Jesus was the one about whom Moses and the Prophets had written (1:45). But he also describes Jesus as being from Nazareth and the son of Joseph, so he probably didn’t understand that Jesus was from Bethlehem, born of the virgin Mary. All we’re told is that Jesus commanded Philip to follow Him and based on Philip’s excited words to Nathanael, he obeyed. There must have been something about Jesus’ authority and presence that caused Philip to respond to Jesus’ command.

We’re also told here (1:44) that Philip, Andrew, and Peter were all from Bethsaida. Calvin (p. 74) points out that this demonstrates God’s grace, since Jesus later pronounced judgment on the people of that city because they had rejected the witness of His miracles and had not repented of their sins (Matt. 11:21). But where sin abounded, God’s grace super-abounded. He chose these three disciples from that faithless city.

When Christ calls us to salvation, He also calls us to follow Him as Lord wherever He chooses to lead us. Marla and I just read Evidence Not Seen [Harper], an autobiographical account by Darlene Deibler Rose of her time in an awful Japanese prisoner of war camp in Indonesia during World War II. She and her husband had gone there as missionaries to reach some of the primitive people in the interior of Papua. But the Japanese imprisoned them, along with all foreigners. Her husband was taken away without warning, and she never saw him alive again. She endured time on death row in solitary confinement in a bare cell, subsisting on a meager bowl of worm-infested rice each day. It’s an amazing story of the faith and endurance of a woman who followed Christ as Lord.

While the Lord doesn’t call us all to that kind of life, He does call us all to follow Him wherever and however He commands. He is the Lord and we’re His slaves. While He always has our ultimate good in mind, the path sometimes is pretty rough! The call to be a Christian is the call to follow Jesus wherever He commands.

5. We mature with Jesus as He reveals truth to us about ourselves and about Him (Nathanael; 1:44-51).

We looked at Jesus’ encounter with Nathanael last week. He is probably the same as Bartholomew, who is linked with Philip in all three Synoptic lists of the apostles (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; but not in Acts 1:13). His initial response to Philip’s statement that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, was not enthusiastic (1:46): “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” But Philip convinced him with the simple reply, “Come and see.”

Jesus instantly let Nathanael know that He knew him inside and out. He knew that Nathanael was a man without guile or deceit (1:47). He told it like he saw it. Jesus’ words to Nathanael are a play on Jacob’s name and character. Jacob was a deceiver, whose name was changed to Israel. Here, it’s as if Jesus is saying of Nathanael, “Look, Israel without a trace of Jacob left in him!” (L. Trudinger, cited by Andreas Kostenberger, John [Baker], p. 82.) Jesus apparently knew that Nathanael had been sitting under a fig tree, meditating on Jacob’s dream of the ladder coming down out of heaven (1:51). So He said to him (1:50), “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”

Nathanael is the first man in John’s gospel who is said to believe in Jesus and he is the first to receive a promise from Christ. His testimony teaches us that there are degrees of growth in coming to know Christ. Nathanael was already a student of the Scriptures, searching them to know who the Messiah would be (1:45). But he needed to meet Jesus in person. That meeting brought him to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel (1:49). But Jesus would reveal still more to Nathanael in the future. As we’ve seen, Jesus is far greater than any of us realized when we first came to believe in Him. So the Christian life is a wonderful relationship in which we come to know Jesus in a deeper and deeper way (Phil. 3:8-14).


Each of these five men had different personalities and gifts. The Lord would use each of them in different ways. Peter and John were more well-known than the others and both men would write inspired Scripture. Peter was changed from an impulsive, speak first and think later, man into a solid, faithful leader in the early church. John, originally a “son of thunder,” became the apostle of love. Andrew is always listed fourth in the lists of apostles. He was content not to be first or to preach to large crowds. But in John’s Gospel, he is always bringing someone to Jesus.

Philip seems to have been a man of somewhat limited ability, focusing on the negative (John 6:7; 14:8). But he was a faithful servant of Christ. Tradition says that he later had an effective ministry in Asia Minor and died there as a martyr. We know almost nothing else about Nathanael. He is in the group of apostles that goes fishing after the resurrection and encounters the risen Lord on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:2). Listed as Bartholomew, he was with the apostles waiting in the Upper Room for the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:13). Early traditions say that he ministered in Persia, India, and Armenia and probably was martyred (John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men [W Publishing Group], p. 147).

But each of these men met Jesus and He changed their lives drastically for time and eternity. Whatever your personality or background, if you will come to know Jesus personally as your Savior and follow Him as Lord, He will use your life for His eternal purpose.

Application Questions

  1. Why is it important to emphasize that Christianity isn’t just knowing about Jesus, but knowing Jesus personally? What are some important differences between these two conditions?
  2. Can a person be saved without some degree of conviction of sin? Why must the fact that we are sinners be a part of any gospel presentation, even to “good, religious” people?
  3. If a Christian told you that he tried to spend time each day reading the Bible and praying, but it wasn’t doing anything for him, how would you counsel him? Be specific.
  4. John Calvin begins The Institutes as follows: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” What are some practical implications of this statement?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Discipleship, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life

Lesson 10: The Joyous Salvation that Jesus Brings (John 2:1-11)

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April 28, 2013

A little girl from a poor section of a large city became ill on Christmas Day and was taken to the hospital. Lying in her bed, she heard carolers singing and listened while someone told how Christ had come to redeem a lost world. With childlike faith, she received the gift of salvation by trusting Jesus. Later she said to a nurse, “I’m having a good time here. I know I’ll have to go home as soon as I’m well, but I’ll take Jesus with me. Isn’t it wonderful why He was born? He came to save us!”

“Yes,” the nurse said wearily, “that’s an old story.”

“Oh,” said the girl, “do you know about Him too? You didn’t look like you did.”

“Why, how did I look?” she asked.

“Oh, like a lot of folks—sort of glum,” replied the girl. “I thought if you really understood that He came to bring us to heaven, you would be glad!” (“Our Daily Bread,” Dec., 1985)

I wonder how many of us by our demeanor communicate to others that we know the Savior in whose presence is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forever (Ps. 16:11)? How many of us experience the fact that Jesus came so that we would have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10)? He wants His joy to be in us and our joy to be made full (John 15:11).

If we’re lacking in the “fullness of joy department,” we might benefit by meditating on the story of Jesus’ first miracle, when He turned about 150 gallons of water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. He didn’t say, “They’ve had enough fun. Let them drink water.” No, He made wine, and lots of it! While there is much more to this story, one obvious lesson is that Jesus was not a killjoy! He wanted this young couple and their guests to enjoy the wedding festivities. He wants us to enjoy the blessings of salvation.

It’s an interesting story in that there is no mention of who the groom or bride or their families were. There is no mention of how the wedding party or the guests responded to the miracle, if they even knew about it. John doesn’t even tell us how the miracle was done. It was very low key. Jesus didn’t call all the guests around and like a magician have someone confirm that it was only water in the pots. Then, “Abracadabra,” He had them taste it again. Everyone marveled, “Wow! How’d He do that?” In fact, so far as John reports, Jesus didn’t even touch the waterpots or pray. The focus in the account is not on the spectacular part of the miracle, but on Christ and His glory. Those who had eyes to see knew what He did and believed in Him.

John calls this miracle a “sign” (2:11): it pointed to something beyond itself, namely, to Jesus and what He came to do. It was an actual historical event—if you had been there you could have tasted the new wine after the miracle. But the miracle is like a parable, in that you have to think about the meaning behind it. With some of the other miracles that John reports, the significance is more obvious. In chapter 6, Jesus feeds the 5,000 and then proclaims (6:35), “I am the bread of life.” In 8:12 He claims, “I am the light of the world,” and then in chapter 9 He opens the eyes of a man born blind. In 11:25, He asserts, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and then He raises Lazarus from the dead.

But here there is no explanation to tell us the significance or deeper meaning of the miracle. Some well-meaning commentators read all sorts of fanciful meanings into the text. To determine the intended meaning, we need to consider the context as well as some clues in the account itself. In John 1:16-17, we read, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” The contrast with Moses and the Law puts the focus on the new covenant blessings that Jesus provides. “Fullness” emphasizes the abundant blessings that Jesus bestows. Here He gives an abundance of wine, a symbol of the Messianic kingdom.

In the context following this miracle, we read of Jesus cleansing the Jewish temple and proclaiming His risen body as the new temple (2:13-22). In chapter 3, we see Jesus teaching a leader of the Jews about the new birth that He came to bring. Nicodemus had the rituals and the commandments down pat. What he lacked was new life. In chapter 4, instead of the water of Jacob’s well, Jesus offers a sinful woman living water that will quench her thirst forever. Instead of the worship at Gerazim or Jerusalem, Jesus talks about worship in spirit and in truth (see D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 166). And here, in the story itself, we see the empty waterpots that were used for the Jewish custom of purification filled with the new wine that Jesus gives. And, we have John’s statement (2:11) that this sign manifested Jesus’ glory with the result that His disciples believed in Him.

Also, to interpret the miracle properly, we need to understand that in their culture, the Jews viewed wine and weddings as times of joy and celebration, and even as symbolic of the future Messianic kingdom. The rabbis could say, “There is no rejoicing save with wine” (cited by Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 179, note 15). Morris adds that this does not indicate drunkenness, which was strongly condemned. Also, the wine was usually diluted with one part of wine to three parts of water. It was not as strong as our wine or beer are.

But wine was associated with joy and gladness (Ps. 104:15; Judges 9:13). Isaiah 25:6 promises, “The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine.” Joel 2:19, 24, promises, “The Lord will answer and say to His people, ‘Behold, I am going to send you grain, new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied in full with them; and I will never again make you a reproach among the nations.... The threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil.’” (See, also, Jer. 31:12; Joel 2:19, 24; Amos 9:13-14.)

So we can sum up the significance of this miracle:

Jesus’ first miraculous sign should cause us to see His glory and the superiority of the joyous salvation that He brings so that we believe in Him.

I’m going to explain the text by looking at the situation (2:1-2); the sign (2:3-10); and the significance (2:11).

1. The situation: Jesus, His mother, and His disciples attend a wedding in Cana of Galilee (2:1-2).

“The third day” (2:1) probably refers to the third day after Jesus’ encounter with Nathanael (1:43). Cana was probably about 8-9 miles from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. We don’t know the social connection, but apparently Mary and Jesus knew the family (Joseph may have been dead by this time; but, see 6:42). John never uses Mary’s name, but refers to her as “the mother of Jesus.” The disciples at this point would probably be just the five men mentioned in chapter 1. John doesn’t mention “the twelve” until 6:67; he never tells us how the other seven came to be disciples.

To run out of wine at a wedding was a major social blunder that would have been very embarrassing and even could have led to legal action against the groom’s family, which had failed to provide the proper wedding gift (Morris, p. 179). It may mean that they were poor. But in a shame-based culture, this social mishap would have been hard to live down.

Jewish weddings had three stages. First was betrothal, which took place at least a year before the wedding celebration. This could not be broken except by divorce. When Joseph first learned that Mary was pregnant with Jesus, they were betrothed and so he sought to divorce her for unchastity (Matt. 1:18-19). The second phase was the procession, where the groom and his friends would go to the bride’s house and joyously lead her and her friends back to his house. The third stage, which is described in our text, was the wedding feast, which could last for as long as a week. It was a major social event for the community.

2. The sign: Jesus met the couple’s need by turning the water into wine (2:3-10).

The story proceeds by narrating the counsel of Mary to Jesus, the commands of Jesus to the servants, and the comments of the headwaiter.

A. The counsel of Mary to Jesus: Do something to fix this situation (2:3-5).

Mary may have had something to do with catering the food and drink. Commentators differ over exactly what she was asking Jesus to do. Some argue that since Jesus had not yet performed any miracles, she was merely asking Him to use His resourcefulness to come up with a solution (Carson, pp. 169-170). But the problem with that view is: short of a miracle, what could He do? He didn’t have access to funds to run out and buy more wine. Keep in mind that Mary knew that the angel had spoken to her about Jesus’ birth, announcing that He would be the Son of the Most High and would reign on the throne of David forever (Luke 1:32-33). She knew that she had conceived Him while she was still a virgin. She remembered the prophecies of Simeon and Anna over the baby Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:28-38). She treasured in her heart the incident with Jesus in the temple when he was twelve (Luke 2:41-51). And so it seems likely that here she is suggesting to Jesus that He do something to demonstrate that He was the Messiah (Morris, pp. 179-180, following Godet).

Jesus’ reply strikes us as abrupt and rude (2:4), “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” “Woman” was not rude in that culture. Jesus used the same word to speak tenderly to Mary from the cross (19:26). So it was a term of respect, although it wasn’t a customary way for a son to address his mother.

The next phrase is literally a Hebrew idiom, “what to me and to you” (Judges 11:12; 2 Sam. 16:10). In the gospels, on several occasions the demons address Jesus with these words (Matt. 8:29; Mark 1:24; 5:7; Luke 4:34; 8:28). It serves to put some distance between the two parties. It may be translated (Carson, p. 170), “What do you and I have in common (so far as the matter at hand is concerned)?” It was a rebuke of Mary’s suggestion that He do something to demonstrate that He was the Messiah. Also, Jesus was indicating to Mary that there was now a new relationship between them as He entered His public ministry. He was now out from under her authority and was totally under the authority of His heavenly Father. Thus she must not presume upon Him or dictate to Him how He must act. She must allow Him to minister in His own timing and way. D. A. Carson (p. 171) observes regarding Mary,

She could no longer view him as other mothers viewed their sons; she must no longer be allowed the prerogatives of motherhood. It is a remarkable fact that everywhere Mary appears during the course of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus is at pains to establish distance between them (e.g., Mt. 12:46-50). This is not callousness on Jesus’ part: on the cross he makes provision for her future (19:25-27). But she, like every other person, must come to him as the promised Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus explains His comment by adding, “My hour has not yet come.” Jesus’ “hour” refers to the time for His glorification, especially as culminated in the cross (see 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1). But how was this comment an answer to Mary’s statement about the wine? Jesus means that it is not the time to reveal His identity publicly by performing a miracle that would show Him to be the Messiah. (There is a similar situation in 7:1-10 with Jesus’ brothers.) Here, He denies Mary’s request, but then fulfills it on His own terms, more discreetly and behind the scenes. Mary must have taken some hope from His answer, because she tells the servants (2:5), “Whatever He says to you, do it.” That’s not bad advice for any situation: Whatever Jesus tells you to do in His Word, do it!

B. The commands of Jesus: Fill the waterpots with water (2:6-8).

The six stone waterpots would have held between 120-180 gallons. The Jewish purification rituals were extensive. The last book of the Mishnah contained 126 chapters with 1,001 separate items of purification. There are two special tractates with instructions about purifying hands and vessels, the latter containing over 30 chapters! Judaism had become a religion that emphasized external cleansing and rituals, but often their hearts were far from God (Mark 7:6-8). John notes that the servants filled the waterpots to the brim, so there would be no room for wine to be added. We’re not told how Jesus did the miracle. He simply told the servants to draw some water out of the pots and take it to the headwaiter. Somewhere in the process, the water had become wine.

Was it real wine? In a word, yes. The word used means wine. Verse 10 implies that it was alcoholic. The headwaiter is not endorsing drunkenness, but is simply stating the common practice. A host would serve the best wine first and hold the cheaper wine for later when the guests’ palates would be deadened and they wouldn’t notice the difference. Also, while the Bible strongly condemns drunkenness (Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35; Hab. 2:15; Luke 21:34; Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18), it does not command total abstinence. It may be wise to abstain from all alcohol for several reasons. First, it’s easy to get addicted to alcohol, especially if you begin to depend on it to relieve stress or block out your problems. Before you know it, you can’t get along without a daily drink or two. I’ve read that if you have two beers a day, you’re an alcoholic. So, be careful! Second, if a brother who has a problem with alcohol sees you drinking and is led to go back to drinking himself, you have caused him to stumble, which is sin on your part (Rom. 14:21). But at the wedding, since the wine was diluted and since drunkenness was condemned in the Bible, Jesus was not endorsing drunkenness, even though He made alcoholic wine.

C. The comments of the headwaiter: “You have kept the best wine for now” (2:9-10).

The headwaiter didn’t know where this wine had come from and we’re not told whether he (or the bridegroom) ever did know. But he attests to its superb quality. It was better than the good wine that the host had served earlier in the wedding feast. Several commentators note that the world always gives its best things first and saves its worst things for last. Sin draws you in by its instant gratification, but it hides the painful long term consequences until later. Jesus’ servants, on the other hand, may have to suffer hardship and trials in this life, but He saves the best for last. We’re promised eternity with Him, with no sorrow or pain or death (Rev. 21:4).

3. The significance: This miracle points to Jesus’ glory as the Christ, the Son of God, who provides the abundant joy of salvation to His people.

Remember John’s purpose for writing these “signs” (20:30-31): “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” The result of this miracle is that His disciples (the five men from chapter 1) believed in Him. They had already believed, but for John faith isn’t a “one-time and you’re done” sort of thing. You believe in Christ at the moment of salvation, but you go on believing more and more as you see more of who He is.

I’ve already commented on the main significance of this miracle. Wine is a symbol of joy, especially of joy in the coming Messianic kingdom. The six stone waterpots that were for the Jewish custom of purification point to the old rituals of Judaism that could not completely satisfy. Jesus fulfilled those ceremonial rituals with the abundant joy of salvation and new life in Him. He is the Son of God who brings the transforming joy of salvation to all that believe. Leon Morris states (p. 176): “This particular miracle signifies that there is a transforming power associated with Jesus. He changes the water of Judaism into the wine of Christianity, the water of Christlessness into the wine of the richness and the fullness of eternal life in Christ, the water of the law into the wine of the gospel.”

Also, John says that Jesus manifested His own glory, not God’s glory, showing that He is the Son of God. R. C. Trench (Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord [Baker], p. 73, italics his) observes, “Of none less or lower than the Son could it be affirmed that He manifested forth his glory; every lesser or lower would have manifested forth the glory of God.” After Isaiah wrote (40:3), “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness,’” he adds (40:5), “Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed ….” John the Baptist has already referred to himself as clearing the way for Jesus as the Lord (John 1:23). So here the apostle John is saying, “The glory of Jesus that we saw in this first miracle is none other than the glory of the Lord.” Jesus is God.

This miracle also reveals Jesus as the Creator: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). Just as He transformed the water into wine He also can change sinners into saints. He transforms the deadness of religious ritualism into the new wine of a relationship with Him. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus has the power to change your heart!

This miracle also emphasizes the abundant provision of Christ for our needs. The wine had run out. There was no way to get more to supply the need of the guests and to save the groom from social disaster. But it’s when we come to the end of ourselves that the Lord displays His power. It was when there was no way to feed the hungry multitude that the Lord provided enough bread to satisfy everyone’s need, with 12 baskets full left over. It was in Paul’s weakness that he came to know the sufficiency of the Lord’s power (2 Cor. 12:9). If we think that we’re rich and have need of nothing, we will not experience the Lord’s sufficiency. It’s only when we recognize that we are “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17) that we will hear Jesus knocking, open the door, and enjoy dinner with Him (Rev. 3:20). And He brings all the food!


Some of you may be like these waterpots: empty or only partially full with the water of religion, but you’re lacking the joy of knowing Jesus as your Savior from sin and judgment. The solution is to believe in Him as your Savior and Lord.

Others of us may have believed in Christ as Savior, but we’re not experiencing the abundant joy of the salvation He has given to us. We need to see more of His glory so that we believe in Him again and again.

John Stott (Christianity Today [June 12, 1981], p. 19) told of a Salvation Army drummer in England who was beating his drum so hard that the band leader had to tell him to tone it down and not make so much noise. In his Cockney accent the drummer replied, “God bless you, sir, since oi’ve been converted, oi’m so ’appy, oi could bust the bloomin’ drum!” That’s the kind of joy that Jesus wants us to have. He wants to change the water of dead religion into the joyous, abundant wine of His kingdom rule.

Application Questions

  1. What does it mean to experience the joy of the Lord? Do different personality types experience it differently?
  2. Is it a sin to be depressed? If so, how so? If not, why not? Defend your answer biblically.
  3. Discuss: In light of our nation’s problem with alcohol abuse, should Christians be teetotalers?
  4. Share some ways that you have fought for joy in the Lord (to use John Piper’s terminology). What has helped you the most?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Faith, Glory, Miracles, Soteriology (Salvation)

5. Our Devout Duty (Luke 16:19-31)

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Jesus and Our Stuff (part five)

Christians have an obligation toward the poor. Caring for the less fortunate helps keep our eyes off of ourselves. It reminds us that all people are created equally in God's image and after His likeness with inherent dignity. It increases our gratitude for what we've been given. It tests our dependence on our stuff. It reminds us that God's economy is different from ours and this world is not our home. We may debate about how exactly we're to fulfill our obligation toward the poor, but we cannot deny our devout duty.

Related Topics: Discipleship, Finance, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry

Lesson 43: Terrible and Triumphant Powers (Luke 8:26-39)

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Of all the astounding signs and miracles Jesus performed that remind us of how amazing He was, there are those instances which also strike us as categorically falling into a league of their own. Pigs becoming demon possessed and rushing to their deaths over a cliff is one of those, but there is obviously more to this account than odd swine occurrences. Pastor Daniel makes the case that “we must acknowledge that we face a terrible and evil power when we face the demonic realm. But [it’s] a power that must completely subject itself to our triumphant Christ.” In this message, the reality and power of the demonic realm is highlighted, but our need to cling to our Lord in heart and practice is emphasized in a way that reminds us of how great a Hope we have. Jesus revealed His power over the legion of demons in the demoniac, a power than none other had been able to exhibit. And so, though this world be fraught with dangers, we are reminded of how our God is greater and how we need not live in fear.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Character of God, Christology, Demons, Spiritual Life

Lesson 44: Fear and Faith (Luke 8:40-56)

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Jesus brought hope to needful individuals on every end of multiple spectrums. People, all sharing life in a fallen world in a little corner Israel, had needs; the word on the street was that Jesus delivered relief in miraculous ways. In the passage at hand, we see how He brought such comfort and relief to an established “clean” family and then to an “unclean” woman plagued by years of illness. But in every case of suffering, there is a truth in this message that Pastor Daniel shares: “In times of physical trials, do not fear; only believe.” Through looking at Jesus’s interactions with the needful in this account, we are reminded to 1) allow God to use physical illness in your life to drive you to spiritual desperation, and 2) be aware that your natural tendency is to be filled with fear instead of faith. A right fear of God that includes the kind of awe and desperate trembling for Him that the Scriptures call us to have will, at the same time, bolster our faith in the One who has victory over even death.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Faith, Miracles, Spiritual Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

Lesson 45: Proclaiming the Coming Kingdom (Luke 9:1-9)

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What does it look like to be prepared for travel into a new gospel-preaching ministry? The disciples were given simple instructions from Jesus in this, instructions that might make us at first scratch our head if we’re coming from a modern Western context. But part of what Pastor Daniel helps us to see in the message at hand is that there are some underlying principles that we should recognize—principles that extend beyond this one narrative about a certain group of people at a certain moment in time. He points out that, 1) You are an ambassador for the kingdom of God (and not an independent contractor), 2) Your needs for life and ministry are met by God through His people, 3) Your ministry is protected by your integrity, and 4) You cannot compromise God’s message in order to win popular acclaim.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership, Pastors, Spiritual Life

Lesson 11: Jesus Cleans House (John 2:12-17)

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May 5, 2013

Probably most of us do not enjoy cleaning our houses or apartments, but if you don’t do it regularly, pretty soon you’re living in a pigsty. When I was a pastor in California, I once visited the home of a couple from the church there. When I walked in the door I saw boxes and piles of stuff stacked everywhere. The place was a disaster! I almost said, “Oh, are you moving?” Thankfully, before I said anything I realized, “This is the way they live!” I’ve been in other homes where there was so much clutter that there was literally no place to sit down. I was in another house where the shower was unusable because it was piled high with stuff!

Imagine how those people would have reacted if I had walked in and started throwing their stuff into the trash can! They would have shrieked, “What do you think you’re doing?” After all, it wasn’t my house or my stuff. Even though it needed to be cleaned up, I had no right to do it because it wasn’t mine.

In our text, Jesus goes into the temple in Jerusalem and starts cleaning house. He didn’t begin by opening Scripture and teaching everyone the proper use of the temple. He wasn’t polite, either. He didn’t ask, “Would you mind moving your animals outside the temple? Could you please carry your coin boxes and tables outside the gates?” Rather, He saw what was going on, made a scourge of cords, and drove the animals and their owners out of there. He dumped out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those selling doves, He commanded (2:16), “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.”

As could be expected, the Jews asked Him, in effect, “What right do you have to do these things?” In the vernacular, “Who do you think you are? Do you think you own this place?” John wants us to understand, “Yes, Jesus owns this place! The temple belongs to Him.” Thus,

As the Lord of the temple, Jesus has authority to cleanse it and restore it to its proper use.

In our last study, the disciples got an initial glimpse of Jesus’ glory when He turned the water into wine and they believed in Him (2:11). They had already believed in Him, but when they saw more of who He really is, they believed in Him again, in a deeper way. After Jesus’ resurrection when the disciples remembered this incident, the result was the same: “they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (2:22). And John writes these things so that we might get a deeper understanding of who Jesus is so that we might believe in Him as the Christ, the Son of God, and through believing, we might have life in His name (20:30-31).

Before we look at the main event in our text, note that verse 12 is a transitional verse from the last incident: “After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days.” Capernaum was on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, about two miles west of where the Jordan River flowed into the sea. It was the home of Peter and Andrew. After John the Baptist was imprisoned, Jesus moved there from Nazareth (Matt. 4:13).

This is the last time that Jesus’ mother is mentioned in this gospel until she is at the cross (19:26). We will encounter Jesus’ brothers again in 7:3-10, where John informs us that they did not at that point believe in Jesus. Some (usually Roman Catholics) believe that these could not be Mary’s children because they assert that she was perpetually a virgin. They say that these were either Jesus’ cousins or else Joseph’s children from a previous marriage. But there is no biblical reason to deny that these were the children born to Joseph and Mary after Jesus was born. Matthew 1:25 states that Joseph kept Mary a virgin until she gave birth to Jesus, implying that after that time they had normal marital relations.

Regarding the cleansing of the temple, most liberal scholars and even a few conservative ones argue that there was only one cleansing of the temple, not two. The Synoptic Gospels all report that Jesus cleansed the temple after His triumphal entry during the last week of His ministry (Matt. 21:12-13). John alone reports this cleansing at the outset of Jesus’ ministry. William Barclay (The Gospel of John [Westminster], 1:107) makes the ridiculous statement, “John is more interested in the truth than in the facts” (as if we can have truth based on factual error!). Some say that John puts the event out of chronological order at the beginning for theological reasons. But the chronological sequence of 2:11-13 is pretty tight (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/ Apollos], p. 177). Other than a liberal bias, it is most natural to conclude that there were two cleansings.

All Jewish males were required to go up (Jerusalem was at a higher elevation than the surrounding territory) to the temple three times a year for the great feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. On this occasion, Jesus went up for Passover.

Within the temple compound was a spacious courtyard called “The Court of the Gentiles.” Gentile proselytes could worship in that area but were threatened with death if they went beyond the four and a half foot dividing wall (Paul refers to this in Eph. 2:14). It was in this area that the merchants and money changers had set up their operation. As Jesus approached this area, which was to be a place of worship and prayer (Isa. 56:7; Matt. 21:13), He would have heard the commotion of the marketplace, with merchants crying out to hawk their wares and the smell of animals.

The pilgrims who walked great distances to Jerusalem to worship needed sacrificial animals—sheep, oxen, and doves. They could bring their own animals from home, although it would not be easy to do. But, the animals had to be without blemish and had to pass an official inspection, which cost money. So to avoid the hassle of bringing their own animals and the risk of having the animals rejected, a person could simply buy one of the already certified animals from a vendor at the temple. These vendors paid the high priest for the privilege of selling at the temple. So it was a nice business for the high priest and the vendors. And, it provided a convenient service for the worshipers.

Also, foreign money was not acceptable in the temple. To buy their animals or to pay the half-shekel temple tax, worshipers had to get their money changed into the proper coinage, again for a fee. If you’ve ever traveled overseas, you know how this works. In every foreign airport and city, money changers will trade your American currency for the local currency for a nice fee.

There is scholarly evidence that these merchants and money changers had operated around the Mount of Olives, outside of the temple precincts, under the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin for some time. But just prior to Jesus’ ministry, Caiaphas, the high priest, had brought some of them into the Court of the Gentiles to compete with those outside. Jesus’ indignation was not necessarily against selling these animals or changing money per se (although gouging people with exorbitant rates for personal profit was wrong), but rather at the audacity of bringing these merchants into the only place where the Gentiles could worship (William Lane, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark [Eerdmans], pp. 403-404). Their business should have been carried on outside the temple.

Why didn’t the temple officials arrest or physically restrain Jesus from carrying out this extreme action? There were probably several factors. First, there was a general public outrage against this corrupt and evil system. The people knew that they were being charged exorbitant rates. The high priest and the vendors knew that there was only so much that the public would bear. If they had used force against Jesus, they might have faced a public rebellion. Second, the consciences of the vendors themselves may have been a little uneasy. Their setting up shop in the temple precincts defiled the temple because it brought animal excrement into that sacred space. Also, Jesus’ action could have been viewed as a fulfillment of Malachi 3:1-4, which prophesied that Messiah would come to His temple and purify the people like a refiner’s fire.

Leon Morris points out (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 194) that it was not so much Jesus’ physical force that drove these merchants out of the temple, but rather His moral power. So rather than physically arrest or restrain Jesus, the authorities challenge His authority or right to do what He did (2:18). We will have to wait until next time to examine Jesus’ reply and the disciples’ response (2:19-22). For now, let’s look at five lessons from Jesus’ housecleaning of the temple:

1. As the Lord of the temple, Jesus has authority over it.

Several things in the text establish Jesus’ lordship and thus His authority over the temple. First, He calls it “My Father’s house,” not “our Father’s house.” Morris notes (ibid., p. 195, note 66), “Jesus never joins men with Himself in such a way as to indicate that their sonship is similar to His (cf. 20:17).” He adds, “Jesus’ words are a claim to deity.” If Jesus is the unique Son of God, the heir of all things (Heb. 1:2), then He is the rightful Lord of the temple.

Also, the citation of Psalm 69:9 shows that this “action is not merely that of a Jewish reformer: it is a sign of the advent of the Messiah” (Hoskyns, cited by Morris, p. 196). John is showing us that Jesus is the Christ (20:31). Morris adds, “It is one of John’s great themes that in Jesus God is working His purposes out.”

John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 91) raises the question, “Why didn’t Christ begin with teaching before He took this drastic action?” He answers that Jesus wished in some way to take possession of the temple and to give a proof of His divine authority. Also, this dramatic action would awaken everyone to pay attention when He later began to teach.

This reminds me of a story that P. G. Wodehouse told (America, I Like You, cited in Reader’s Digest [July, 1984], p. 113). A member of the British Parliament was standing in the lobby of the House when a tall, distinguished-looking old gentleman asked for a moment of his time. He said, “I have heard of you as one who takes up unpopular causes and I should be extremely grateful if you would listen to my story.”

It was a sad story. By hard work and thrift, he had amassed a large fortune and now his relatives had robbed him of it and, not content with that, had placed him in a mental home. This was his day out. “I’ve put the facts in this document,” he concluded. “Study it and communicate with me at your leisure. Thank you, sir, thank you. Good day.”

Much moved by the old man’s exquisite courtesy, the Member of Parliament took the paper, shook hands, promised that he would do everything in his power, and turned to go back into the session of Parliament. As he did so, he received a kick in the seat of the pants which nearly sent his spine shooting through his hat.

“Don’t forget!” said the old gentleman.

So after Jesus “kicked the vendors in the seat of their pants,” they wouldn’t forget Him or His teaching!

It’s easy to sit here and enjoy the story of Jesus cleaning house on the temple, but it gets a bit uncomfortable when we remember two things. First, the church is now the temple where God dwells. In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Paul writes, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” The context indicates that Paul is speaking of the church. Also, in Ephesians 2:21, he states that the church is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.

Second, every believer individually is a temple of the Lord. Paul writes (1 Cor. 6:19-20), “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

This means that Jesus has authority over this church and over every individual in it. He is the rightful Lord of the church. He owns each member because He purchased each one with His blood. Thus He has the right to cleanse the church and to cleanse every person in it. Everything else that I’m going to say applies both to the whole church and to each of you individually.

2. As the Lord of the temple, Jesus examines and judges it in light of its purpose.

Jesus knew that the temple was not to be a place for business (2:16). It was a place for worship, for prayer, and for offering sacrifices. It was the place to meet with God and seek His face (see 1 Kings 8:22-53; Isa. 56:7). It was the place to gather for the three annual feasts (Deut. 16:16). The Passover, which Jesus here went up to celebrate, was a time to remember God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. But it had degenerated into a business opportunity for the high priest and all of the merchants and money changers. No doubt they rationalized their activities: It was a useful service for the worshipers. But they were prostituting God’s purpose for the temple.

God’s purpose for His church is that we would glorify Him by growing in fervent love for Him and for one another (the two great commandments) and by proclaiming the gospel to the lost (the Great Commission). We need to keep on task by evaluating all that we do in light of these purposes. Individually, each of us should seek to glorify God by everything we do (1 Cor. 6:20; 10:31). If we live for anything else, the Lord of the temple will examine us and purge out that which has diverted us from His purpose for us.

3. As the Lord of the temple, Jesus hates certain things that go on in it.

Jesus is zealous for God’s house and that zeal means that sometimes He is not “nice.” He didn’t politely go around to each stall and suggest to the proprietors that perhaps they should move outside the temple precincts. Rather, He made a whip and drove them out with force. He angrily upended their money tables and scattered their coins.

Does that fit with your picture of Jesus? Yes, He was gentle toward sinners (Matt. 11:29; 12:20). He gives “grace upon grace” (John 1:16). He so loves us that He gave Himself for us on the cross (John 3:16). But He also baptizes with fire. “His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor” (Luke 3:17). “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). As we’ve seen (1 Cor. 3:17), “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.”

Jesus hates sin because sin destroys people He loves and sin among God’s people drags God’s holy name through the mud. This means that first, we should hate our own sin and be quick to repent of it so that He doesn’t have to clean house for us (Rev. 3:19). Judge, confess, and forsake your sin on the thought level and it won’t go any farther. If you’ve already sinned in word or deed, turn from it, ask God to forgive you, and ask forgiveness of those you’ve sinned against.

Also, if you know of a brother or sister who is in sin, zeal for God’s house should override your fear of man and your aversion to confront anyone. After prayer, in humility, go to your brother and seek to restore him to the Lord (Gal. 6:1). It is the Christlike thing to do. Jesus never avoided confrontation if it was necessary to do the will of God. Don’t dodge your responsibility. It’s a necessary part of biblical love to hate sin.

4. As Lord of the temple, Jesus cleanses it.

A sober question to ask is, “What would Jesus do if He visited our church?” Would He be pleased with our worship? Would He smile as He looked at our relationships? Would He approve of our heart for the lost? Would He commend our giving and the way that we use the church’s funds? Would He say that our prayer life reflects our total dependence on Him?

Ask the same question on an individual level: Lord, is my life pleasing to You? Is my love for You genuine? Do I reflect the fruit of the Spirit? Is my thought life pure in Your sight? Where would You clean house in my life if I gave You full rein?

Note that Jesus didn’t work out a compromise with the stall owners and money changers: “If you guys will tithe your profits, I’ll let you keep doing business in the temple.” He cleaned out the entire operation. He doesn’t let us keep a little bit of sin if we’ll just give up a few other sins. Jesus cleans it all out. And, yes, it’s painful and costly. I’m sure that the whip stung when it hit. The money changers probably lost a few coins. Their future business suffered. It may cost you in many ways to do business with Jesus. But the long term benefits are worth it.

5. As the Lord’s temple, we must submit to His cleansing, even if it costs us dearly.

Hebrews 12:6 reminds us, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” He adds (12:11), “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” And so we should not regard His discipline lightly or faint when we are reproved by Him, but rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live (12:5, 9).

Also, once Jesus has cleaned our house for us, we need to keep it clean so that He doesn’t have to do it again. Not long after this first cleansing, they set up shop again, so that Jesus had to do this a second time three years later. Then His zeal for God’s house did consume Him—it led to His death.


It’s good every so often to examine yourself to make sure that you’re in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5):

  • Have you lost that first love for Christ (Rev. 2:4)? Do you spend time with Him often in His Word (Psalm 119) and in prayer (1 Thess. 5:17)? Are you actively seeking to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18; Phil 3:8-10)? Do you seek to please Him with your thoughts, words, and deeds?
  • How are your relationships with others, especially with those you live with (Matt. 22:39)? Are you fervent in your love for others (1 Pet. 4:8)? Do you deny yourself and seek to build others in love (Mark 8:34; 1 Cor. 8:1)? Do you love gathering with His church (Heb. 10:25)?
  • Do you spend your time in light of His kingdom purposes (Matt. 6:33)? Are you a conscientious steward of the resources that He has entrusted to you (Luke 16:10-13)? Do you view yourself as the Lord’s servant, seeking opportunities to be used by Him (Luke 17:10)? Are there any hidden or open sins that you need to confess and forsake (1 John 1:9)?

Paul says that if we clean house ourselves, the Lord won’t need to do it for us. Before we partake of the Lord’s Supper, he instructed us (1 Cor. 11:28), “But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” He adds (1 Cor. 11:31-32), “But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” So if you need to clean house, don’t procrastinate! The Lord doesn’t want you to live in a spiritual pigsty!

Application Questions

  1. Does Jesus wielding a whip fit your image of Him? Why is it crucial to know Jesus as the Bible reveals Him, not necessarily as we might want Him to be?
  2. Work through the questions in the conclusion of the message. Prioritize two or three that you most need to work on. Jot down some practical ways to begin.
  3. Study some of the verses pertaining to helping a brother or sister who is in sin (Gal. 6:1; Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Thess. 5:14; Rom. 15:14; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). What are some principles that you can apply? Is there someone you need to help restore?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christology, Discipleship, Hamartiology (Sin), Spiritual Life

Lesson 12: How to Come to Jesus (John 2:18-22)

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May 12, 2013

You’ve probably had the experience of talking to a skeptic about Christ only to have him say, “If I could see a miracle, I’d believe.” But that’s not true. The problem with the skeptic is not a lack of evidence, but rather his love of his sin. He suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).

Years ago, the most popular course on a college campus was a first-year chemistry class, taught by a renowned professor, Dr. Lee. Each year before Thanksgiving, Dr. Lee would lecture against prayer. He would conclude the lecture with the challenge: “Is there anybody here who still believes in prayer?” He would add, “Before you answer, let me tell you what I’m going to do and what I’m going to ask you to do. I will turn around, take a glass flask and hold it at arm’s length. If you believe that God answers prayer, I want you to stand and pray that when I drop this flask, it won’t break. I want you to know that your prayers and the prayers of your parents and Sunday school teachers and even the prayers of your own pastors cannot prevent this flask from breaking. If you wish to have them here, we will put this off until you return after the Thanksgiving recess.”

No one had ever stood up to Dr. Lee’s challenge until a Christian freshman learned about it. He sensed that God had given him the conviction to stand up to Dr. Lee. When the skeptical professor threw out the challenge, this brave young man stood up.

“Well,” said the professor, “this is most interesting. Now we will be most reverent while this young man prays.” Then he turned to the young man and said, “Now you may pray.”

The young man lifted his face toward heaven and prayed, “God, I know that You can hear me. Please honor the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, and honor me, Your servant. Don’t let the flask break. Amen.”

Dr. Lee stretched his arm out as far as he could, opened his hand, and let the flask fall. It fell in an arc, hit the toe of Dr. Lee’s shoe, rolled over and did not break (Richard Harvey, Seventy Years of Miracles [Horizon House], cited by Bill Thrasher, A Journey to Victorious Praying [Moody Publishers], pp. 48-50).

The book where I read that story doesn’t report the professor’s response, but I seriously doubt that he fell to his knees, repented of his sins, and trusted in Jesus Christ as His Savior and Lord. Skeptics who demand a miracle don’t need a miracle to come to faith. They need to repent of their sins.

Our text reports the aftermath of Jesus’ confronting the sin of those who authorized the selling of sacrificial animals and the changing of money inside the temple precincts in Jerusalem. They came to Jesus and demanded a sign (John’s word for “miracle”) to validate His right to cleanse the temple. In effect, they challenged Jesus, “Who do you think you are to do what you just did? Do you think that you own this temple?” John wants us to see, “Yes, Jesus owns the temple. He is the rightful Lord of it. He has every right to cleanse it from corruption.”

Our text shows us how not to come to Jesus when He confronts your sin and how to come to Him:

When Jesus confronts your sin, don’t challenge Him, but believe in Him as the crucified and risen Lord as the Scriptures testify.

1. Jesus is in the business of confronting all sin that undermines the true worship of God.

God created us to glorify Him in all that we do, but especially when we gather in worship. All sin may be summed up as falling short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). As we saw last week, Jesus confronted the merchants and money changers in the temple because they were perverting God’s purpose for the temple, which was that His people might worship Him. It was to be a house of prayer for the nations (Mark 11:15), but they had turned the only part of the temple where Gentiles could worship into a place of business.

Jesus was especially incensed with religious sin because these people professed to know the Scriptures. They purported to be obedient to God and to worship Him, but their hearts were far from Him (Mark 7:6-8). No doubt they would have rationalized their temple business by arguing that it provided a needed service for the worshipers. But they were using religion as a cloak to cover their greed. So Jesus zealously drove them out of His Father’s house and upended their money tables.

If you want to stir up someone’s zeal, offend what he loves. If you want to get me stirred up, offend my wife. Because I love her I will defend her if you put her down. Jesus loved the Father and the Father’s house, where true worship was to take place. So when He saw this perversion going on in the temple, it stirred up His righteous zeal (John 2:17), so that He drove them out.

But in so doing, He offended what they loved, namely, their money (Luke 16:14) and their position of authority in the temple (Matt. 23:6-7). So they responded to Jesus’ confrontation by challenging His authority to do what He had done. But that was the wrong way to come to Jesus!

Before we look at their challenge to Jesus, let me ask: Has Jesus confronted your sin? You can’t walk with Jesus, who is holy, without at some point having Him confront your sin. He does it gently with those who are weighed down with the burden of their sin. But with self-righteous religious hypocrites, He gets pretty tough. But wherever you’re at on the spectrum, there is no such thing as having real contact with Jesus without having Him confront your sin. When He does, don’t respond as the Jews did when He cleared their business out of the temple:

2. When Jesus confronts your sin, don’t come to Him by challenging Him, asking for a sign.

John 2:18: “The Jews then said to Him, ‘What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?’” Note 3 things:

A. To challenge Jesus when He confronts your sin is to dodge the main issue at stake.

The reason the Jews challenged Jesus was that He had just upset their nice little corner on the religion market. There is no sign of repentance on their part for how they had defiled the temple. They didn’t come humbly and say, “Jesus, you were right. We were wrong to sell our goods in the temple. Thank you for helping us correct that.” They knew that He was right, but rather than face their sin, they dodged it by challenging Jesus’ right to do what He did.

When skeptics say, “Show me a miracle and I’ll believe,” they’re dodging their sin. They don’t need more evidence to believe, because they aren’t seeking to believe. They don’t want to believe in Jesus, because they know that He would confront their sin.

A campus worker talked with a student who claimed that the Bible was packed with mythology, although he admitted that he had never read it. So the worker challenged him to read Isaiah, which contains prophecies concerning Christ, and Matthew, which records the fulfillment of those prophecies.

He thought that he would never see him again, but the next day he came up and said, “I read Isaiah and Matthew. It was interesting literature. I think it speaks the truth.” “That’s great!” said the worker. “Are you ready to trust Christ for eternal life?”

“No way,” said the student, “I have a very active sex life. I know Christ would want to change that. I don’t want anyone to change that.” (Cliff Knechtle, Give Me an Answer [IVP], pp. 88-89, cited by Lee Stroebel, Inside the Mind of the Unchurched Harry & Mary [Zondervan], p. 113.)

B. To challenge Jesus is to assume superiority over Him.

Jesus was the Lord over the temple. It was His Father’s house and He is the heir of all things (Heb. 1:2), so He owned it. By cleansing the temple and calling it His Father’s house, Jesus demonstrated His deity. Jesus’ reply to them (John 2:19) shows that He knew that He would be killed and raised up the third day. He knew His own future before it happened.

You don’t come to the omniscient Lord of the temple as if you are the lord of the temple, demanding answers from Him or implying that you know more than He does. You must assume the position of a subordinate in the presence of Jesus or you will not receive anything from Him except judgment. The problem with skeptics who challenge the truth of the Bible is that they set themselves up as lords over the Word of God. But Jesus doesn’t respond kindly to such critics:

C. If you challenge Jesus by asking for a miracle, He will give you enough truth to condemn you, but not enough to save you, because you aren’t seeking salvation.

On at least two other occasions, the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign, and both times Jesus gave them basically the same answer that He gives here. Matthew 12:38-40 records,

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

Again in Matthew 16:1, “The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven.” He replied (16:4), “‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.’ And He left them and went away.”

Both times, Jesus gave the same reply: a cryptic reference to His upcoming death and resurrection. So in John 2:19, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” They thought that He was speaking literally of the Jerusalem temple, but John clarifies (2:21), “But He was speaking of the temple of His body.”

Rather than humbly admitting that they didn’t understand and asking Jesus to explain, they challenged Him again (2:20), “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” Some reputable scholars (Andreas Kostenberger, John [Baker], pp. 109-110; Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Zondervan], pp. 560-561) argue on grammatical, linguistic, and historical grounds that this should be translated, “This temple was built forty-six years ago.” The point then was, “This impressive building has stood the test of time here for 46 years. How could you possibly rebuild it in three days?” But however you take it, it’s clear that these men were not humbly seeking truth from Jesus. Rather, they were challenging His authority.

But Jesus never threw His pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6). When the disciples asked why Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables, He said (Matt. 13:13), “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” His parables served to reveal truth to those who humbly sought it, but also to conceal truth from skeptics. He gave such critics enough truth to condemn them on judgment day, but not enough to open their eyes and save them (Matt. 13:14-15).

It’s interesting that at Jesus’ trial, the false witnesses who obviously didn’t understand Jesus’ words here tried to use it against Him. They stated (Matt. 26:61), “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” Then as Jesus hung on the cross, Mark 15:29-30 reports, “Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, ‘Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!’” But Jesus had never said that He would destroy the temple. Rather, He made a statement of future fact: “[You will] destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

What did Jesus mean? His reply had a double meaning. On one level, they would destroy the temple of Jesus’ body and He would raise it up in three days. Scripture indicates that all three members of the Trinity had a part in Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:24; Rom. 1:4; 6:4; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:15; John 10:17-18), just as they did in creation. But on another level, through their unbelief and rejection of the Messiah, they would destroy the Jerusalem temple (fulfilled in A.D. 70). It would be replaced by the risen Savior, who is our new temple or dwelling place of God with men. Our worship now centers in Him, not in any building. The sign that these things are true is the bodily resurrection of Jesus on the third day, which is the supreme authentication of His person and work.

Thus, Jesus is in the business of confronting all sin that undermines the true worship of God. When He confronts your sin, don’t come to Him by challenging Him, asking for a sign. Rather,

3. Come to Jesus by believing in Him as the crucified and risen Lord, as the Scriptures testify.

The Jewish skeptics and the disciples both saw the same person, heard the same teaching, and were given the same sign of Jesus’ resurrection. But the skeptics refused to repent of their sins and eventually crucified the Lord of glory. The disciples’ response was quite different (John 2:22): “So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” That’s the response that John wants us to have. Note four things:

A. All of Scripture centers on the substitutionary death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

John doesn’t specify exactly which Scripture the disciples believed after Jesus’ resurrection. He could have been thinking of Psalm 16, Psalm 22, and Isaiah 53. But I think he wants us to realize that all Scripture points to Jesus as our sacrifice for sin, whom God raised from the dead. After the resurrection, Jesus encountered the two men on the Emmaus Road. Luke 24:27 states, “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” Later, Jesus said to the disciples (24:44), “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Luke adds (24:45), “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Being there would have been worth more than all the seminary courses in the world!

The point is, to believe in Jesus, look for Him in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. You need to read the entire Bible, asking God to reveal Christ to your soul (see my message on Rom. 15:4, “Why You Need the Old Testament”).

B. Scripture is our only source for the truth about who Jesus is and what He did.

Beware of conjuring up a “Jesus” of your own liking! Many do that. They pick their favorite verses or stories about Jesus and His love, but ignore the parts that show Jesus in His holiness and wrath against sin. The Bible is our only source of God’s revelation concerning His Son, and we need the balance of taking it all in.

Here’s one example: In Matthew 11:28, we all love Jesus’ invitation, “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” But some don’t like what He said just before that. First, He pronounced judgment on the unrepentant cities that had not believed in Him (Matt. 11:20-24). Then He thanked the Father for hiding spiritual truth from the wise and intelligent and revealing it instead to infants (11:25-26). Then, just before the invitation that we love, He asserted His sovereignty (11:27): “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” My point is, we need to embrace these difficult verses just as much as we embrace our favorite verse of invitation. God inspired all Scripture for our spiritual good.

C. Scripture shows that by virtue of Jesus’ death and resurrection, He is the new temple.

I already mentioned this, but we need to understand: since the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, there are no “sacred” buildings or places. Jesus Himself is our temple, not a cathedral or church building. We meet with God in Jesus. We dwell in Him and He dwells in us. The church (people, not the building) is growing into a holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 2:21).

D. As God opens our eyes through the Scriptures to see truly who Jesus is, we should believe more and more in Him.

Believing in Jesus is not a blind leap, where you vaguely hope He catches you before you hit the bottom. Rather, faith in Jesus is a step (not a leap) where you put your trust in the credible witness of Scripture and the apostles to the person and work of Jesus Christ. They were eyewitnesses of His glory (John 1:18). Peter testifies (2 Pet. 1:16), “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” The apostolic testimony is recorded for us in the New Testament, corroborated by the Old Testament.

Also, as we’ve seen, faith in Christ is not a once-for-all decision in the past. Rather, the disciples believed in Christ when they first began to follow Him (John 1:50). They believed again when they saw His glory when He turned the water into wine (2:11). Now, after the resurrection they reflect back on Jesus’ words here and “they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” John puts Jesus’ words on a par with Scripture. What Jesus said, God said. The point is, as we understand more and more from the Scriptures of who Jesus is, our faith in Him grows.

Note also that it takes time for spiritual truth to sink in. The disciples didn’t connect all the dots at first. They couldn’t understand Jesus’ predictions about His death and resurrection (Luke 9:44-45; 24:45). But later they remembered what Jesus had said and it all made sense. So if you don’t understand something in the Bible, don’t give up. Keep asking, seeking, and knocking, and eventually the door will be opened for you.


A story is told of a godly but poor old Christian woman who lived in a run-down house. But she was always praising the Lord. An old atheistic man lived next door, who was always trying to prove to her that there is no God.

One day as he walked by the house, he saw through an open window that the woman was kneeling in prayer. He crept near and heard her pray, “Lord, you’ve always given me what I’ve needed. Now you know that I don’t have any money, I’m out of groceries, and I won’t get another check for a week. Somehow, Lord, can you get me some groceries?”

The atheist had heard all that he needed to hear. He ran down to the store, bought several bags of groceries, set them down on her doorstep, rang the bell, and hid beside the house. When the old woman saw the groceries, she threw her hands over her head and began shouting, “Thank you, Jesus! I was without food and you provided the groceries! Praise the Lord!”

At that point, the old man jumped out and said, “I’ve got you now! I told you that there is no God. It wasn’t Jesus who gave you those groceries—it was me!”

“Oh, no,” the woman said. “Jesus got me these groceries and He made you pay for them!” There are two ways of looking at things, aren’t there! The point of our text is, when Jesus confronts your sin, don’t challenge Him. Rather, believe in Him as the One who was crucified for your sins and raised for your justification.

Application Questions

  1. If a skeptic says, “Evolution is a proven fact,” how should you respond? Should you debate the point or confront his sin?
  2. Does submitting to the authority of Scripture mean that we are to put our brains on the shelf? Can we ask the hard questions and yet be in submission to the Lord?
  3. Discuss Matthew 13:10-17. Why did Jesus speak in such a cryptic manner to certain people?
  4. Why is it important to form our view of God (and Jesus) based on all Scripture, not just on our favorite parts?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin), Resurrection, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 13: Does Jesus Believe in You? (John 2:23-25)

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May 19, 2013

It seems to me that there is an epidemic of superficial or false faith in America. Over the last few decades, polls have indicated that between 30 to 40 percent or more of Americans claim that they have been born again. If one third of our nation was truly born again, the moral condition in our land would be vastly different!

While only God knows the true condition of people’s hearts, Jesus said that we can know a tree by its fruit (Luke 6:43-44). We should be able to spot a Christian by his godly behavior and lifestyle. Genuine faith results in good works (James 2:14-26). As 1 John 2:3 states, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” He does not mean that Christians never sin (see 1 John 1:9; 2:1). But his point is that the overall pattern of a true Christian’s life will be one of obedience to Jesus Christ, not a life of sin (1 John 3:4-10).

I bring up these matters because in our text we read about a situation where many believed in Jesus, but Jesus didn’t believe in them. The word translated “entrusting” (2:24, NASB) is the same Greek verb as “believed” (2:23). We could rightly translate it, “Many believed in Jesus, but Jesus didn’t believe in them.” While I found a couple of commentators who argue that these people had genuine faith, I agree with the overwhelming majority of scholars who argue that John intends for us to understand that these people had superficial faith.

As we’ve seen, John’s purpose for writing was (20:31), “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” In the prologue (1:1-18), John immediately sets forth the glory of Jesus Christ as the eternal Word, the Creator of all that is. He is the source of light and life. We saw in 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” In 1:14, John writes, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

In 1:50, Nathanael is the first one in this gospel who is said to believe in Jesus. In 2:11, the disciples, who had already believed and followed Jesus, believed again when they saw His glory when He turned the water into wine. In 2:22, John tells us that after Jesus resurrection, “His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” So John is drawing a portrait of Jesus as the glorious manifestation of God with us, the one in whom everyone should believe for eternal life. He has given us examples of early faith in the disciples.

But now we read (2:23), “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.” You would expect John to move on, leaving this as another example of saving faith following the earlier examples that he has given. But instead we read (2:24-25), “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” Why would Jesus refuse to entrust Himself to those who believed in Him? I agree with John Piper, who explains (, “He Knew What Was in Man”):

What it says, in essence, is that Jesus knows what is in every heart, and so he can see when someone believes in a way that is not really believing. In other words, Jesus’ ability to know every heart perfectly leads to the unsettling truth that some belief is not the kind of belief that obtains fellowship with Jesus and eternal life. Some belief is not saving belief.

So while most of us (I hope) would say, “I believe in Jesus,” we all need to ask, “Does Jesus believe in me? Has He entrusted Himself to me?” (We’ll look at what that means later.) These verses teach us that…

We need to believe in Jesus in such a way that He believes in us.

These verses conclude the story of Jesus’ first ministry visit to the temple, but they also introduce us to the encounter with Nicodemus. John 2:25 emphasizes “man” (used twice) and then in 3:1, we read, “Now there was a man….” Also, 2:23 mentions the signs that Jesus was doing in Jerusalem during the feast, and in 3:2 Nicodemus acknowledges the signs that Jesus was doing. It’s obvious as the interview progresses that Jesus knew what was in Nicodemus’ heart and what he needed, namely, the new birth. So the story of Nicodemus helps us to understand these verses (and vice versa).

1. There is such a thing as superficial faith that does not result in salvation.

The disciples may have been initially enthused over the response of the people and then puzzled by Jesus’ seemingly aloof response to them: “If He’s the Messiah, why doesn’t He welcome all of these people who are believing in His name?” The reason was that He could see their hearts. He knew that their faith was based on seeing the miracles that He performed, but they weren’t repenting of their sins and trusting in Him as their Savior from sin.

Chapter 6 reports a similar incident. After Jesus fed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish, we read (6:14), “Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’” “The Prophet” was a Messianic term (Deut. 18:15). The disciples no doubt thought, “Great! These people get it! They’re acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah!” But the next verse says that Jesus perceived that the people were going to take Him by force to make Him king, so He withdrew to the mountain by Himself alone. Jesus knew that the people superficially believed in Him, but He didn’t entrust Himself to them. Let’s look further at superficial faith:

A. Superficial faith in Christ is based on the spectacular or on what He can do to relieve your problems, not on Jesus as Savior and Lord.

These “believers” (in 2:23) were impressed with Jesus. They had seen Him clear out the merchants and money-changers from the temple. During the visit to Jerusalem, He had performed some other signs that John doesn’t specify (2:23). Maybe some of them had been healed or knew those who had been healed. They were ready to sign on with Jesus.

But they really didn’t understand the truth about who Jesus is and what He came to do. Like Nicodemus, they probably thought, “We’re good Jews. We’re God’s chosen people. We keep the Law of Moses. We just observed Passover.” They didn’t understand that they were sinners who needed a Savior. They didn’t know that Jesus is the Lord and that He commands His followers to take up their cross and follow Him. They were amazed at His signs, but they weren’t committing themselves to Him as Savior and Lord, so He didn’t commit Himself to them.

We see an example of superficial faith in Acts 8. A magician named Simon had built quite a following in Samaria, claiming to be someone great (8:9). When he saw the miracles that God was working through Philip, Simon believed and was baptized. He continued on with Philip, being constantly amazed by the miracles that he saw (8:13). Then, when Peter and John arrived and prayed for the people to receive the Holy Spirit, Simon was impressed. He offered money to the apostles so that he could obtain the same powers. But Peter strongly denounced him (8:20-23), “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.” Clearly, Simon’s faith was not saving faith.

B. Superficial faith may have a high view of Jesus, but it is not high enough.

These people were impressed with Jesus. They had seen Him cleanse the temple and thought, “He must be a great prophet!” They had seen Him do miracles and thought, “He must be a great man of God!” Nicodemus is an example of this. He calls Jesus “Rabbi,” acknowledges that He has come from God as a teacher, and that God is with Him (3:2). But he didn’t understand that Jesus came to impart the new birth or that he even needed the new birth. He didn’t understand that Jesus would die as God’s provision for sinners to receive eternal life (3:14-16). While I believe that he later came to faith, at this point his view of Jesus was high, but not high enough.

We see the same thing in John 10:31-33, where Jesus’ critics acknowledged that He did good works, but they were ready to stone Him for blasphemy, because He made Himself out to be God. They had a high view of Jesus as a good man, but not high enough. They didn’t see Him as God.

Muslims have a high view of Jesus as a great prophet, but their view is not high enough, in that they think that Mohammad was a greater prophet and they deny Jesus’ deity. The Jehovah’s Witnesses affirm that Jesus is the greatest of all created beings, but their faith is not saving faith because they deny His deity, which also denies His ability to atone for our sins. The same is true of the Mormons. Their “Jesus” is not the Jesus presented to us in the Bible, who is fully God and fully man. Superficial faith thinks highly of Jesus, but not highly enough.

C. Superficial faith may be the starting point of genuine faith, but the test is whether it perseveres and bears fruit.

Believing on the basis of signs (miracles) is better than not believing at all. In John 10:37-38, Jesus tells His Jewish critics, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” But believing because of miracles will not result in salvation unless it is accompanied by repentance. Simon the magician believed, but he had not repented of his pride and love of power over the people. He was not saved. In the parable of the sower, it is only the seed that endures and bears fruit that is genuinely saved. (See, also, Matt. 24:13; Rom. 11:22; 1 Cor. 15:2; Col. 1:23; Heb. 3:12-14; 1 John 2:18-19.) Faith that perseveres sees with growing clarity the glory of Christ and what He did for us on the cross so that it perseveres when trials or persecution hit.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (The Path to True Happiness [Baker], pp. 159-161) points out that there are some who “believe” in Jesus intellectually, but their hearts and their wills have never been touched. They may be scholars, but their knowledge has never changed their lives. Others have their hearts touched, but their minds have not been in operation. In fact, they have been told that they should not try to understand. Often, they have not submitted their wills to Christ. Experience is everything. There is a third group where their Christianity is almost entirely a matter of the will. They don’t bother to understand and they aren’t interested in their feelings. They just want to be doing things to serve God.

Lloyd-Jones argues that all three types have superficial faith because they have only picked out what appeals to them and believed in that. They haven’t seen themselves as lost sinners and Christ as the only one who can save them. Their faith is partial, based on what they like about Jesus. But when things don’t go the way that they envisioned, they fall away.

Many of us believed in Jesus with a shallow or superficial faith. We trusted Him because we wanted healing or success or something other than salvation from sin. But to go on and develop into genuine saving faith, you have to see yourself as the Bible portrays you and see Christ for who He is.

2. Saving faith begins with God by accepting His evaluation of our fallen hearts.

The reason that Jesus didn’t entrust Himself to these “believers” was that He knew what was in their hearts. But the implication is that they didn’t know their own hearts. Since this section serves to introduce the interview with Nicodemus, he is an example. He thought that he was a good Jew, but Jesus stunned him by telling him that he needed to be born again. His goodness was not good enough to get him into the kingdom of God. Note two things:

A. Only God truly knows the human heart.

In 1 Samuel 16:7, the Lord tells Samuel, “For God sees not as a man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Solomon prays (1 Kings 8:39b), “For You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men.” (Also, see 1 Chron. 28:9; Ps. 139:1-18, 23-24; Jer. 17:10; Heb. 4:13.) So when John tells us that Jesus knew all men and knew what was in man, it is a witness to His deity. Jesus could peer beneath the surface and evaluate the thoughts and motives of hearts (1:47-48; 4:17-19, 29; 6:15, 64 16:30; 21:17; Luke 16:15). Now, here’s the scary part:

B. We need to ask the Lord to reveal His evaluation of our hearts to us.

Proverbs 21:2 states, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.” Jeremiah 17:9 says, ““The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” When the Lord saves us, He gives us a new heart (2 Cor. 5:17), but the old man or flesh is not eradicated. There still lurks within us the bent to do evil. The problem is, we don’t realize just how powerful and deceptive this monster within really is.

That’s why Peter denied the Lord. He thought that he was stronger than he was. In fact, he denied the Lord’s prediction of his denial because he thought he knew more than the Lord did! Later, when the Lord restored Peter with His threefold question, “Do you love Me?” the third time, Peter replied (21:17), “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” The Lord knows our hearts better than we know our hearts. We have to allow Him to reveal our hearts to us. He does this gradually (thankfully—we couldn’t bear it all at once!) as we read and study God’s Word. The more you see how weak and prone to sin you really are, the more you’ll trust in the Lord to deliver you from temptation and sin.

If you’ve never done so, you must ask God to change your heart through the new birth. Christianity is primarily a matter of your heart before God, not of rituals or keeping rules. As you walk openly before the Lord, letting His light shine into the dark places of your heart, you will grow in grace. If you’re hiding some secret sin from others, remember, you aren’t hiding it from the Lord. But you won’t gain the victory over it until you expose it to Him. Until then, you’re just playing games with yourself, because God knows the true condition of your heart.

So, we need to be careful because there is such a thing as superficial faith that does not result in salvation. Saving faith begins with accepting God’s evaluation of us on the heart level.

3. Saving faith means having a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting Him as the One who saves you from your sins.

Many people make a decision to follow Christ, but that decision is not an indicator of the new birth unless it springs from the right motive, namely, a desire to have our sins forgiven through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. R. V. G. Tasker (The Gospel According to St. John [IVP/Eerdmans], p. 65) wrote, “[Christ] regarded all belief in Him as superficial which does not have as its most essential elements the consciousness of the need for forgiveness and the conviction that He alone is the Mediator of that forgiveness.”

So, what does it mean for Jesus to believe in you, or to entrust Himself to you? It has to do with a personal relationship. Trust is at the heart of all relationships. If you don’t trust someone, you will not be close to him. You will keep him at arm’s length, or just cut off all contact. To entrust yourself to someone, you must trust him. For Jesus to entrust Himself to you, He must trust you.

But how can He do that in light of our propensity to sin? First, there has to be the new birth where He imparts new life to us through the Holy Spirit. Only then is there anything in us worth trusting. Jesus did not entrust Himself to these superficial believers because He did not see their faith as the work of God stemming from the new birth.

Then, we need to walk in obedience to Him. In John 14:21, Jesus states, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” He adds (14:23), “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” The Lord entrusts Himself to those who obey Him and it is only those who have been born again who are able to obey Him from the heart (Rom. 6:17).

Some of the scariest verses in the New Testament are Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” These people professed faith in Jesus. They called Him “Lord.” They were even involved in impressive ministries. But Jesus didn’t know them personally. Their disobedience showed that although they “believed” in Jesus, He didn’t believe in them. At the final judgment, Christ’s evaluation of us will be the determinative factor.


My aim in this message is, I hope, the same as John’s aim for including these verses in his Gospel: to get us all to believe in Jesus in such a way that He believes in us. Or, in Paul’s words (2 Cor. 13:5), “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

Some people were touring a mint where coins are made. In the smelting area, there were caldrons of molten metal. The tour guide said that if a person dips his hand into water, someone could then pour the molten metal over his hand and he would not be injured or feel any pain. He asked a couple if they would like to prove the truthfulness of what he just said.

The husband quickly replied, “No, thanks, I’ll take your word for it.” But the wife said eagerly, “Sure, I’ll give it a try.” Putting her words into action, she thrust her hand into a bucket of water and then held it out as the molten metal was poured over it. The hot liquid rolled off harmlessly, just as the guide had said it would. He then turned to the husband and said, “Sir, you claimed to believe what I said. But your wife truly trusted.” (Adapted from, “Our Daily Bread,” 12/84.)

You don’t want to stand before the Lord and hear Him say, “Your faith was only superficial; I never entrusted Myself to you.” Genuine saving faith means having a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting Him as the One who saves you from your sins.

Application Questions

  1. Discuss: Since genuine faith must be tested, is it wise to try to give assurance of salvation to someone who has just believed?
  2. Does Jesus’ knowledge of what is in your heart make you uncomfortable? How can you change your feelings on this?
  3. Did you originally come to Christ because of “a sign” (something spectacular that He could do for you)? What helped your faith to mature and grow?
  4. Have you ever thought about Jesus trusting in you? Why is trust at the heart of all relationships?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Faith, Soteriology (Salvation)