YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN

Bible Reading: John 3:1-21

Jesus answered and said to Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” [John 3:3]

Nicodemus was both a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. He would almost certainly have witnessed the signs that Jesus did in Jerusalem [John 2:23], and was sincerely puzzled, because he recognised that Jesus could not have done these signs unless God was with Him. He came, in sincerity, to Jesus by night to try and get some answers to his questions. I love the fact that he came by night. When we lived in a Muslim country people often came to talk under the cover of darkness, sincerely asking questions but not wanting to be seen.

Jesus made it clear to Nicodemus that he had to be born again [lit. “Born from above”] in order to both see the kingdom of God and enter the kingdom of God [verse 3,5]. His vast experience and knowledge of religion would not give access to God’s kingdom. This “new” teaching was totally foreign to the learned cleric! His ignorance is clear from the question that he asked Jesus – “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” He did not understand that Jesus was speaking about a spiritual, not a physical rebirth. Jesus used the words, “born of water and of the Spirit” [v.5]. There are various opinions about the word water in this context. Some would say it is baptism and others that it speaks of the washing and renewal of the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5]. Water may refer to physical birth. In Hebrew the word water is used to describe natural birth, and such an explanation fits the context of this passage.

The Bible teaches us that we have all sinned and that sin has separated us from God. This is the reason that we need a spiritual rebirth. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” [John 3:6]. The human spirit is that part of man that is intuitive, includes the conscience, and was originally created to have communion with God. When we turn from sin and invite Jesus Christ into our life, believing on Him, then the human spirit is made alive again by the Holy Spirit. In this way man’s relationship with God is restored. At the same as he puts his trust in Christ man’s old, fleshly, carnal nature is crucified with Christ and he becomes a new person [see 2 Corinthians 5:17]. Literally, the slate is wiped clean; we are seated together with Christ, adopted into His family and begin a new life of fellowship with God. Over the next two days we will look further into John chapter 3 and see how this new birth is made possible.

Questions:

Read John 1:12-13 and Titus 3:5. What do these verses teach us about being born again?

What are the words or phrases in our Bible reading today that describe a person who has been born again by the Holy Spirit?

JESUS KNOWS MEN’S HEARTS

Bible Reading: John 2:23-25

“Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart” [John 2:23-25 NLT]

We do not know exactly what miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, but people began to trust Him because of the miracles that He did. Signs and wonders excite many people, but they do not want to make the commitment that Jesus demands. Jesus knew this and did not trust them because He knows men’s hearts.

Jesus perfectly understood human nature and what was in each person’s heart. Jesus revealed Himself to the church in Thyatira as the One who searches [examines] the hearts and minds of men [Revelation 2:23]. Jesus said to a paralytic man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” [Mark 2:5]. Some of the religious leaders were criticising Jesus in their hearts for this statement, but Jesus “perceived in His spirit what they were thinking” [Mark 2:8]. In Matthew’s account of this story he says, “Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, Why do you think evil in your hearts” [Matthew 9:4].

The Psalmist, David, wrote, “O God, you know how foolish I am; my sins cannot be hidden from you” [Psalm 69:5]. The Bible says that the word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart [Hebrews 4:12].

One of the loveliest stories in the Bible is of Hagar’s experience with God at a well in the wilderness. She was hurt, broken and running away when the Angel of the Lord found her. He knew everything about her, challenged her, and gave her a remarkable promise. She was totally alone but God knew everything about her. This experience so impacted Hagar that she gave God a name – “Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered” [Genesis 16:13-14 NLT].

God knows all the thoughts and intents of our heart. Nothing is hidden from Him! It was this fact that caused Joseph not to sin when he was in Egypt, but equally caused David to confess his sin of adultery with Bathsheba.

Questions:

Why should it be so comforting for the Christian to know that God sees everything and knows all about our thoughts, motives and intents?

Why do you think that Jesus did not trust the people who only believed on Him because of the miraculous signs that He performed? What kind of faith is Jesus looking for?

How do you respond to the fact that our sins cannot be hidden from the Lord?

CORRUPTED WORSHIP

Bible Reading: John 2:13-22

A children’s hymn has the words, “Gentle Jesus meek and mild, look upon a little child.” Jesus is gentle, meek and mild but when the occasion arises, and among “religious” people He could be very angry. On this occasion Jesus was righteously angry because the love of money, profiteering and corruption was affecting the purity of worship in His Father’s house. Man was created to worship and enjoy God and this purest of all things, was being corrupted by greed and covetousness.

Jerusalem was increasingly filled with travellers as the Passover approached. Many had travelled long distances and it would not have been convenient to carry their sacrifices with them. The Temple court would have been packed with people selling and buying the “acceptable” sacrifices. In addition, the moneychangers were exploiting those who had come to worship. They had to change their money into the local currency in order to pay the Temple taxes, but were getting poor exchange rates and having to pay high charges. In the name of religion people were being fleeced and worship was being disrupted. Religious ritual was being used as a cover for greed. Empty forms of love for God were covering up an insatiable love of money. It is not surprising that Jesus was so angry! It was an insult to His Father!

Jesus took a whip and drove out the traders together with their sheep and oxen, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers! We must beware of people who suppose that godliness is a means of material gain [1 Timothy 6:5], and who use religion to make themselves wealthy. The truth of Paul’s words to Timothy are just as relevant today as when he penned them in the first century – “But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction” [1 Timothy 6:9 NLT].

When the Jews challenged the authority of Jesus to do what He did, He spoke of His own death and resurrection [v.18-22]. The way that they used the Temple for gain would bring God’s wrath, and its destruction by the Romans in AD 70. Similarly, their attitude would cause the death of Jesus, but in three days he would rise again [verse 19]. Jesus said of Himself, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” [Matthew 12:6]. His death and resurrection would make the Temple and its services obsolete and instead we would be able to worship God anywhere, in spirit and in truth [John 4:21-24].

Questions:

In this story Jesus was righteously angry. The Bible tells us to “be angry and sin not” [Psalm 4:4; Ephesians 4:26]. What is the difference between righteous anger and sinful anger?

What similarities might we see in modern Christendom and the attitude of the traders and moneychangers in the temple?

How can we personally protect ourselves against the temptation to use our faith as means to make money?

JESUS TURNS WATER INTO WINE

Bible Reading: John 2:1-12

It was at the wedding in Cana of Galilee that we have the last recorded words of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is probable that Mary was a close relative of the family of the couple getting married. She asked Jesus to help because the wine had run out and Jesus answered her with the words, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come” [John 2:4 ESV]. Although it seems as though Jesus repulses her, Mary still has faith in Him and says to the servants at the wedding, “Whatever He says to you, do it”

Tradition tells us that Mary’s husband, Joseph, had already passed away. Some commentators believe that Mary was asking for Jesus’ help because, following Joseph’s death, she would have often depended upon Him as her eldest son. However, from the words, “My hour has not yet come,” it would seem more likely that she was asking Jesus to perform a miracle. Mary knew that Jesus was the Son of God and for many years had pondered the prophecies concerning Him and the miracle of His birth [Luke 2:19]. Whatever Mary’s motive for asking Jesus to help, it is clear that she knew that He could do something in this crisis, and for this reason she tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them do to. Matthew Henry writes, “Those that expect Christ’s favours, must observe his orders with ready obedience.” We can still come to Jesus in our crisis and receive His help as we obey Him.

The six stone water jars could each hold 20-30 gallons. They were not used for drinking water but for bathing and ceremonial washing, and yet Jesus told the servants to fill the jars with water and then take some of it to the master of the feast to drink. Interestingly Jesus spoke no word of power, nor put forth His hand. This was a creative act by the Creator of all things!

Normally the best wine was served first but at this wedding the best wine was kept until the end. This is prophetic! Jesus replaces the ceremonial rituals with a new way of purification – His blood. In a sense Jesus is acting out a parable of how his own death, his own blood, and His hour which will be the final, decisive, ultimate purification for sins. There is no ritual any more for cleansing. Instead of ritual washing we are now to drink of His blood. In this way Jesus revealed His glory, and the disciples believed in Him [verse 11].

Mrs Percy Rush prayed for her husband, who was both a drunkard and violent husband for twenty-eight years. One day God met with him and his life was forever changed. He became a good husband and father, a faithful and dependable friend, and a blazing advocate for the faith. Mrs Rush said, “The first miracle that Jesus did in the Bible was to turn water into wine, and the first miracle he did in my husband’s life was to turn beer into furniture!”

Questions:

What particular aspect of Jesus’ glory does this miracle display? What change in our life does turning the water into wine represent?

What can we learn from Mary’s response to Jesus? Why is it important to obey whatever Jesus tells us to do?

JESUS AT A WEDDING

Bible Reading: John 2:1-12

Jesus, his disciples, and his mother were invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Running out of wine at a wedding broke the unwritten laws of hospitality and would have caused a great embarrassment to the family. Mary knew that Jesus was able to help in that situation, and in His response we see both the remarkable focus and the compassion of Jesus.

Firstly, we see the focus of Jesus. Jesus came to earth with one purpose – to die on the cross in order to redeem us from sin. He was constantly aware of the danger of people trying to divert Him from that goal. Signs, wonders and miracles were not the primary purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth. Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come.” John records seven occasions when Jesus used the words, “My hour” or “the hour” [John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23,27; 13:1; 17:1]. The hour that Jesus came for was His purpose for coming – it was His death on the cross. Luke says that Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem [Luke 9:51]. He came to lay down His life!

In response to His mother’s request for help, Jesus said, “Woman, what does this has to do with me? My hour has not yet come” [John 2:4 ESV]. It may seem harsh and distant for Jesus to use the word woman in referring to His mother, but Jesus wants to distance Himself from any temptation not to fulfil His divine purpose. I remember many years ago when mother pleaded with me not to go as a missionary to Indonesia. Later, after becoming a Christian she told me that if I had not gone to Indonesia she would never have come to Christ. In using the word woman, it may also have been that Jesus was using a term of endearment. Some versions of the Bible use the prefix dear, and thus Dear woman. G. Abbott-Smith in the Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament says, “It is a term of respect and endearment.”

Secondly, we see the compassion of Jesus. Although the goal and purpose of Jesus were clear, He nevertheless had compassion the family at the wedding. He knew the great disgrace and embarrassment for the family if the wine ran out. It was out of compassion, and in order to rescue the situation, that Jesus performed the miracle of turning the water into wine.

Some people with clear-cut goals can be so focussed that they are hard and unsympathetic to the needs of others. Although Jesus was totally focussed on His purpose for coming, He still had time to be tender hearted and sensitive to the needs of others. Tomorrow we will take another look at this remarkable story of Jesus turning the water into wine.

Questions:

God has a purpose for each one of us. What do you believe is God’s purpose and plan for your life?

Have there been times in your life when your personal plans desensitised and hindered you from reaching out to those who were in needed? How can you make sure that your personal agenda does not hinder you from caring for the needs of others?

THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

Bible Reading: Luke 14:25-33

Today we are going to stray out of John’s Gospel to take a closer look at discipleship. Jesus first call to His disciples was to be with Him, to spend time with Him, and to learn from Him. It was not a classroom experience but a life experience. Every day was a learning day. It was a simple pattern – He did it and they watched; He did it and they helped; they did it and He helped; they did it and He left.

To be His disciples demanded that Jesus should be Lord of every part of their lives. In the terms of this world’s values it is costly. Jesus must be Lord of all. Hudson Taylor said, “If Jesus is not Lord of all, then He is not Lord at all.” In the early church “Jesus is Lord” was a common declaration of all Christians and brought conflict between the early church and the Roman Empire.

When Jesus became popular He tried to escape from the crowds [Matthew 8:18], went up on a mountain to pray [Mark 6:46], or challenged those who followed Him with the meaning of commitment [see Matthew 8:18-32] and the cost of discipleship.

The most basic requirement of a disciple of Jesus is that they are prepared to let Him to be the Lord of every area of their life. In our Bible reading today we find a phrase that Jesus uses three times – “cannot be my disciple” [verse 26, 27,33]. On each of those occasions Jesus is referring to a different aspect of His Lordship in the lives of those who would be His disciples.

Jesus must be Lord of our relationships [verse 26]. In a similar passage, Matthew says the same thing in a different way. He says, “Whoever loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” [Matthew 10:37]. We should love and honour our family and friends but Jesus should have the pre-eminence in all our relationships.

Jesus must also be Lord of our ambitions [verse 27]. To take up the cross was to die! It is a dying to self-will and living instead for the will of God. In the dying to self we become increasing alive to God.

Jesus must also be Lord of our possessions [verse 33]. There is nothing wrong with possessing nice things but we must beware of being possessed by them. Jesus said that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions [Luke 12:15], and of being choked by the cares, riches and pleasures of this life [Luke 8:14]. Jesus should be our greatest treasure.

Questions:

Why is it so important to move on from believing on Jesus for salvation to becoming disciples? In 2 Samuel 24:24 David says that he will not offer to the Lord that which cost him nothing? What is following Jesus costing you?

In what way do the words of Jesus on discipleship in our Bible reading today challenge you in your walk with God? Are you honestly able to say that Jesus is Lord of all your relationships, ambitions and possessions?

THE FIRST DISCIPLES OF JESUS

Bible Reading: John 1:35-51

John the Baptist was pointing to Jesus, the Lamb of God, and two of John’s disciples, Andrew and an unnamed disciple heard this and followed Jesus. Jesus did not ask them, “Whom do you seek?” but “What do you seek?” It seems that Jesus wants them to verbalize what they wanted from Him. Their response indicates that they want to be with Him, and Jesus’ response, “Come and see,” would indicate His desire for them to be with Him. To be a disciple of Jesus is always a personal decision. No one is forced to be His disciple!

Andrew then brought his brother, Simon, to Jesus [1:40-42]. Can you feel his excitement as he says to Simon, “We have found the Messiah!” Jesus gave Simon a new name, and said that he would be called Cephas, the Aramiac equivalent to ‘petros’ [Peter] meaning a “stone” or “rock”. When Jesus first saw him, Simon was far from being rock-like. He was impulsive, dramatic and inconsistent, but Jesus looked beyond this and saw Simon’s potential. The prophetic always looks beyond the immediate to the potential!

Philip received a direct invitation from Jesus, who said, “Follow me” [verse 43]

He is the only one of these disciples who receives a direct invitation from Jesus to follow him. Perhaps he was the kind of person who needed to be invited personally.

Philip went and found Nathanael, who proved to be the only one of these five disciples who was doubted Jesus. His question, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” reflected Nazareth’s poor reputation for religion and morals. His hometown was Cana, just eight miles north of Nazareth, and so he would have known about Nazareth’s reputation. As a good Jew, Nathanael would not have expected the Messiah to come from a place like Nazareth, but Jesus won Nathanael’s heart with a word of knowledge [John 1:47-49]. Jesus told Nathanael of the great things that he would see, and revealed Himself as the stairway between heaven and earth. This may well have been the first time that Jesus made it clear that He is the only way to get from earth to heaven – the only way to the Father.

Five different disciples and five different ways of coming to Jesus – an invitation to come to the place where Jesus was staying, the promise of a change of name, a personal invitation and a word of knowledge. Each one of them remained faithful to Jesus, although for four of them it would eventually mean martyrdom.  Tomorrow we will take another look at discipleship but stray for a day from John’s Gospel to read in Luke.

Questions:

How would you define discipleship, and what does it mean to you personally?

When Jesus spoke to both Simon and Nathanael He spoke prophetically, seeing their destiny. What did Jesus say prophetically about these two men? Why is it important that we see the potential of people rather than their past or present state?