DON’T MESS WITH JESUS

Bible Reading: John 7:53-8:12

The scribes and Pharisees increasingly hated Jesus because everything He did cut across their preconceived ideas of God and His ways. As Augustine once observed, religious people are always startled by God’s grace.

The religious leaders, in their anger, became increasingly inconsistent in their statements from Scripture as they attacked Jesus. In countering Nicodemus they had said, “No prophet has arisen from Galilee” [John 7:52]. This was not true because Jonah came from Gathepher, a village only three miles from Nazareth. It is believed that Nahum, Elijah and Hosea were also from Galilee. The religious leaders also seem to have disregarded the Scriptures by arresting the woman without the man. The law required that both parties to adultery should be stoned [Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22].

These “religious” but not spiritual leaders now try to trap Jesus [verse 6]. If Jesus said that the woman should not be stoned then He could be accused of rejecting the Law of Moses. If Jesus agrees that she should die, then He causes conflict with the Romans who did not allow the Jews to carry out the death sentence. Either way Jesus would be in trouble, but He knows the Scriptures better than the religious leaders, and the Holy Spirit gives Him a word of wisdom.

There are various suggestions about what Jesus wrote in the dust. Some say that He was writing to comfort the woman, and others say to point out the pride and self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. But Jesus might well have been writing the words of Jeremiah, “Those who turn away from you [commit spiritual adultery] will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water” [Jeremiah 17:13 NIVUK]. The religious leaders had forsaken the spring of living water but were demanding the death of an adulteress.

With supernatural wisdom, Jesus then said to the religious leaders, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” [verse 7]. Interestingly, the word “sin” in this verse is the Greek word ‘anamartetos’ which is better translated as “sinful desire”. Their consciences were convicted, and beginning with the oldest they left one by one until only Jesus and the woman were left. Tomorrow we will see what happened to the woman, but today it is good to learn that you will never win if you oppose Jesus, so it is best to surrender to Him and not mess with Him!

Questions:

When the religious leaders were angry they misquoted Scripture. Why is it that anger always perverts clear thinking?

Why do you think that beginning with the oldest the religious leaders all went out one by one?

Why is it that religious people are always startled by God’s grace?

A MAN ON A JOURNEY

Bible Reading: John 7:40-52

All of us are on a journey, and Nicodemus was no exception. It was Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, who came to Jesus by night, recognizing that He must have come from God, because of the signs that He did [John 3:1-21]. Jesus got straight to the point with Nicodemus, and told him that he must be born again. That was the first encounter that Nicodemus had with Jesus. We do not know if Nicodemus made a decision to follow Him at that first encounter, but He is on a spiritual journey of discovery!

We meet Nicodemus again in today’s Bible reading. The people were divided about Jesus. Some thought He was the Prophet, but others couldn’t see how that was possible. The Pharisees were against Him but annoyed that their officers had not been able to arrest Him. They thought that they were united against Jesus, but suddenly discovered that one of their number, the same Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night, was challenging their right to judge Him as guilty without first hearing Him and allowing Him to defend Himself. Nicodemus risked his own reputation and high position among his peers when he spoke up for Jesus. It would seem that Nicodemus had become a secret believer, but now his secret was out, and he was making a stand for Jesus. He has taken another step on his spiritual journey.

Living in the freedom of the West we must be careful not judge those many secret believers in places violently opposed to the gospel. I well remember the story of young man, in a Middle Eastern country, who gave his life to Jesus and immediately began to declare openly that he was now a Christian. Tragically, he was martyred within twenty-four hours of coming to faith. Nevertheless, there will come a time when the fact that a person is now a follower of Jesus will become known. In the case of Nicodemus, it was when he defended Jesus.

Our final meeting with Nicodemus in John’s Gospel follows the crucifixion, when he brought spices to anoint the body of Jesus [John 19:39]. The spices, myrrh and aloes, weighed 75 pounds, were imported and very expensive. This extravagant act indicated both the wealth of Nicodemus, and his love for Jesus. He had made the journey from seeking and questioning, to openly defending Jesus, and then to ministering to Him with an act of sacrificial love.

Questions:

Comparing your own spiritual journey with the different stages of Nicodemus’ journey, where would you say that you are on your journey?

What was the reaction of Nicodemus’ peers when he defended Jesus [see verse 52]?

Why is it important that we do not force people, but rather give them time to develop on their journey with God?

HOW TO RECEIVE THE FULNESS OF THE SPIRIT

Bible Reading: John 7:37-39; Luke 11:5-13

Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. If anyone believes on Me out of His innermost being shall flow rivers of living water” [John 7:37,38a].

We have read the amazing promise of Jesus that out of our innermost being would flow rivers of living water, and when He said this He was speaking about the Holy Spirit within us. This is not a once-off experience but an on going filling of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit” [Ephesians 5:18]. The word ‘be’ is in the Greek aorist tense and is better translated as ‘be being’ filled. It is a continual experience.

Three keys to being filled with the Spirit are clearly stated by Jesus. The first key is that we are thirsty. The feast was over but the people were still thirsty, because only Jesus can quench people’s spiritual thirst. The idea of thirst includes both desire and desperation. God meets with desperate people. My wife and I learned the meaning of physical thirst in Indonesia during a time of drought. We were allowed two small buckets of water each day. Perhaps the abundance of material things is a cause of lack of spiritual thirst. Why not consistently pray, “Lord, create in me a soul thirst for you?” Your thirst for the Holy Spirit is a good test of spirituality.

The second key is to come to Jesus. Jesus waits for us to come to Him. He invites us to come, but we have to make a decision to come. When we come to Jesus we must allow Him to cleanse us within, and set us free from all known sin. He wants us to come and be filled, but would you want to put fresh water in a dirty glass?

The third key is faith. Faith is to trust, adhere to and rely upon Jesus. There are two aspects of faith in receiving the Holy Spirit. By faith we ask God for the Holy Spirit [Luke 11:13], and we choose to obey God. The Holy Spirit is given to those who obey God [Acts 5:32]. This is an enjoyable experience, but it is meant to be far more than that. The Holy Spirit flows from our innermost being not just for our own enjoyment, but also to bless other people.

Questions:

Why is our thirst for God so important? What would you say your level of thirst for God is?

In what way might an abundance of possessions and activities be a hindrance to spiritual thirst?

What are some the hindrances that stop people receiving and being filled with the Holy Spirit? How can we remove those hindrances?

What do you think was happening spiritually in the lives of the early disciples after Jesus had returned to heaven and as they waited in the Upper Room for the Holy Spirit to be poured out [Acts 1:12-14]? What is the importance of the words “continued with one accord” [Acts 1:14]?

THE HOLY SPIRIT NOT YET GIVEN

Bible Reading: John 7:37-39; John 16:5-15; Acts 2:32,33

Jesus spoke about what would happen when the Holy Spirit comes, but in John 7:39 he made it clear that the Holy Spirit had not yet been given. Later in John Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, “when He is come” [John 16:7,8,13], implying that the Holy Spirit had still not yet been given.

What exactly did Jesus mean when He said that the Holy Spirit had not yet been given? Throughout the Old Testament we read of the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at a few of those examples.

We first meet the Holy Spirit at the very beginning of Genesis. He was there in creation, hovering over the waters [Genesis 1:2]. The Holy Spirit was also known as the breath [‘ruach’ in Hebrew] of the Almighty. Speaking to Job, Elihu says, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life [Job 33:4]. The Holy Spirit was active in both the creation of the earth and the creation of the individual!

The Holy Spirit at work in the Old Testament gave men understanding. Again Elihu speaks to Job and says, “But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding” [Job 32:8]. In the Book of Exodus we read that it was the Holy Spirit who gave to Bezalel wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to produce beautiful works of art [Exodus 31:2-5].

It was the Holy Spirit who strove with men in the Old Testament in an attempt to turn them away from sin – “And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man,” [Genesis 6:3]. The Holy Spirit also protected God’s people when the enemy attacked them – “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him” [Isaiah 59:19 NKJV].

In the Old Testament we see a limited number of men who experienced the power of the Holy Spirit equipping them to serve God. These included Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, and David, The words, “the Spirit came upon them,” meant literally that, “The Spirit of God clothed Himself with them.”

Clearly the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work in the Old Testament, but He was not yet present in the sense that Jesus indicated. Soon, however, the fullness of the Spirit would be a blessing that all of God’s people could experience [see Acts 2:32-33]. Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus stated that the Spirit will be both with us and within us [John 14:17]. This is not limited to a few believers or leaders but to everyone who believes on the Lord Jesus. It is impossible to be born of God and not have the Holy Spirit within you!

Questions:

How would you describe in a few words the difference between the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people in the Old Testament, and His ministry in us following His coming at Pentecost?

What difference does the Holy Spirit make to your life? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is still as creative today as He was in the Old Testament?

RIVERS OF LIVING WATER

Bible Reading: John 7:37; Ezekiel 47:1-12

“Now on the last and most important day of the feast, Jesus stood and called out [in a loud voice], “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink! He who believes in Me [who adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Me], as the Scripture has said, ‘From his innermost being will flow continually rivers of living water.’ But He was speaking of the [Holy] Spirit, whom those who believed in Him [as Saviour] were to receive afterward. The Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (raised to honour)”

                                                                         [John 7:37-39 Amplified Bible].

Earlier in John’s Gospel Jesus had invited the Woman of Samaria to drink of living [life-giving] water [John 4:10,13-14]. Now Jesus explains exactly what that water is. Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit. When speaking to the Woman of Samaria Jesus referred to the living water as a fountain [John 4:14], but now He speaks of rivers of water. It speaks of an overflowing abundance. In one instance Jesus was speaking about the new birth but now, as He sees the abundance of water joyfully poured on the altar at the feast, He is speaking of the overflowing fullness of the Holy Spirit filled life. I think that Jesus could see in the joy and abundance of water what those who believe in Him would enjoy as a result of His death upon the cross, the resurrection, and His ascension back to heaven. His passion was that His people should enjoy life, and life in all its fullness, in the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said that out of our innermost being would flow rivers of living water. These rivers would not only refresh us, but also pour out towards others in blessing. The Bible calls our innermost being the heart, where the depths of the soul and our spirit meet. Speaking of our innermost being [our heart], the writer of Proverbs says, “Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it flow the issues of life” [Proverbs 4:23]. God wants to fill us and overflow us with the Holy Spirit from deep within.

Ezekiel gives us a remarkable picture of the river of God that flows from the throne of God. Wherever the river went there was life. The passage speaks of multitudes of fish, all kinds of trees and fruit and healing. The place where the river did not flow remained barren, salty swamps and marshland. What an amazing picture of the abundant life where the river of God flows! Ezekiel writes about a man who walked in this river up to ankles, and then up to his knees, then his waist, and finally the water was so deep that he could only swim!

Questions:

What are effects of this river on the life of the believer and on those with whom he comes into contact with?

What do you think it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Have you experienced personally these rivers of living water? If not, then why not?

Why do you think that Jesus linked the joyous festival and the pouring out of water in abundance to the ministry of the Holy Spirit?

THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES

Bible Reading: John 7:1-9, 37-39

There were seven Jewish Feasts each year. Five of the feasts were occasions of joyous celebration and two of them were solemn times of confession of sin. These seven feasts made up nineteen days of national holidays. All “native born” male Jews were commanded to participate in three of these feasts. These were the Feast of Unleavened Bread celebrating the exodus from Egypt, the Feast of Weeks celebrating the end of the barley harvest, and the Feast of Tabernacles.

The Feast of Tabernacles, held between late September and mid-October, was also known as the Feast of Ingathering. It was a family occasion and thousands of people would gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the completion of harvest and to commemorate God’s goodness in providing for them and protecting them during the forty-years in the wilderness.

It was called the Feast of Tabernacles [or Booths] because of the leafy shelters that people lived in during the Feast. These symbolised their temporary dwellings in the wilderness.

The Feast lasted for seven days. On each day water was brought in a golden pitcher from the pool of Siloam to the temple and poured out on the altar as an offering to God. On the final day of the feast, known as “the great day,” this ceremony was repeated seven times. The water symbolised the water that was supplied from the rock in the wilderness [Exodus 17:6]. During the procession from the pool of Siloam to the temple the people chanted, “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” [Isaiah 12:3]. As the water was poured out as an offering to God on the altar in the temple the people shouted and sang with great joy. This was a celebration not to be missed!

This is the background to John 7:37 – On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.’ A teacher in Israel normally sat down to teach, but this verse tells us that He both stood and cried out. Here is Jesus seeing the multitudes and knowing the deeper spiritual meaning behind the Feast speaking out with both passion and fervour. As Jesus saw the water being poured out in such abundance He was looking ahead to the time when the Holy Spirit would be poured out. Tomorrow we will take a closer look at what Jesus was saying about the Holy Spirit.

Questions:

We may not now celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, but what are the principles behind the feast that should be very real in our hearts and daily living? Would you remind yourself today of specific times when you have known the Lord’s protection, and His provision and joyously praise Him?

Why do you think that Jesus was so passionate on that last great day of the feast? In what way does the Feast of Tabernacles point to the ministry of Jesus [see 1 Corinthians 10:4]?

DOES GOD CHANGE HIS MIND?

Bible Reading: John 7:16-17; Acts 16:6-10

One of the questions following yesterday’s word was, “Do you really believe God makes no mistakes?” When my wife, Esther, read this she said to me that the next question is, “Does God change His mind?”

As we read through John’s Gospel we discover that Jesus constantly refers to doing His Father’s will. Is the Father’s will set in stone or does it have some flexibility? Looking at the life of Jesus we see that the Father’s will was that He should go to the cross. That was the constant focus of Jesus. God knows the end from the beginning and His purposes will always come to pass. Although this is fundamental, does God allow flexibility in the way that end result is reached?

In the Old Testament we read that God was sorry and regretted that He had made man [Genesis 6:6]. The King James Version uses the word “repented.”

As a result He looked for a man who was righteous and saved him and his family, but destroyed all the other people living on the earth.

God wanted to destroy Israel [Exodus 32:10], but Moses, knowing God’s character, and remembering God’s covenant pleaded with Him not to do so. God heard Moses and relented of His plan to destroy Israel [Exodus 32:14]. The Living Bible paraphrases this verse as God, “changes His mind and spares them.” Moses’ intimacy with God could change God’s mind!

We see that God’s ultimate purpose will always come to pass, but He can be persuaded to change His mind in the outworking of His will.

To make this personal, how much does God give us flexibility to make our own decisions and choices within the context of His will for our life? Wayne Grudem has summarised this very well. He says, “God causes all things to happen, but that he does so in such a way that he somehow upholds our ability to make willing, responsible choices, choices that have real and eternal results, and for which we are held accountable” [Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p.321]. We act in accordance with God’s Word, listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, loving God with all of our heart and always seeking to glorify Him, and make responsible and godly decisions. As we do this we find that he leads us and puts His desires into our heart. St. Augustine said, “Love God and do as you please!” You cannot love God and do what displeases Him! When we look back and we can see that, “All the way My Saviour led me.”

Questions:

Why do you think it is that Moses’ intimacy with God was important in seeing God change His mind concerning the people of Israel?

In Acts 16 Paul and Silas decided to go to Bithynia but it was not what the Holy Spirit wanted and so He did not permit them to do so. What does this incident teach you about guidance?

What do you think of St. Augustine’s statement, “Love God and do as you please?”

GOD IS SOVEREIGN – 3

Bible Reading: Psalm 91:1-16; Isaiah 55:8-9

Today I would like to share a second testimony of the sovereignty of God at work in a person’s life. Sometimes we think that God should work in a certain way, when actually His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. In God’s economy a spider’s web might be more effective and powerful than a brick wall.

During World War II, a United States marine was separated from his unit on a Pacific island. The fighting had been intense, and in the smoke and the crossfire he had lost touch with his comrades.

Alone in the jungle, he could hear enemy soldiers coming in his direction. Scrambling for cover, he found his way up a high ridge to several small caves in the rock. Quickly he crawled inside one of the caves. Although safe for the moment, he realized that once the enemy soldiers looking for him swept up the ridge, they would quickly search all the caves and he would be killed.

As he waited, he prayed: “Lord, if it be your will, please protect me. What ever your will though, I love you and trust you. Amen.”

After praying, he lay quietly listening to the enemy begin to draw close. He thought, well, I guess the Lord isn’t going to help me out of this one. Then he saw a spider begin to build a web over the front of his cave. As he watched, listening to the enemy searching for him all the while, the spider layered strand after strand of web across the opening of the cave. Hah, he thought. What I need is a brick wall and what the Lord has sent me is a spider web. God does have a sense of humour. As the enemy drew closer he watched from the darkness of his hide out and could see them searching one cave after another. As they came to his, he got ready to make his last stand. To his amazement, however, after glancing in the direction of his cave, they moved on. Suddenly, he realized that with the spider web over the entrance, his cave looked as if no one had entered for quite awhile.

Lord, forgive me, prayed the young man. I had forgotten that in you a spider’s web is stronger than a brick wall.

Nobody can avoid times of great trouble. These are common to all people. We only need to read the Psalms to see how often David, a man after God’s own heart had struggles and difficulties. In times of great trouble make it your goal to honour God and do not be surprised when His way proves to be far better than your way. Just as the Father protected Jesus until it was the time for the cross, so let Him also take care of you!

Questions:

Why do you think it is that we so often try to work things out in our own way rather than trust God to do it His way, which is far better?

Do you really believe that God makes no mistakes? If the answer to this question is yes, then how should it affect the way you handle troubles that come across your path?

GOD IS SOVEREIGN – 2

Bible Reading: Romans 8:18-39

Yesterday we saw how the sovereign God protected Jesus when the authorities tried to arrest Him [John 7:30,32], and that the sovereignty of God is a foundational Christian truth. I have been deeply blessed by the following testimony, which shows how God is remarkably in control of everything:

A man from Norfolk, Virginia, called a local radio station to share this on September 11th, 2003, two years after the tragedies of 9/11. His name was Robert Matthews. These are his words: A few weeks before September 11th, my wife and I found out we were going to have our first child. She planned a trip out to California to visit her sister. On our way to the airport, we prayed that God would grant my wife a safe trip and be with her. Shortly after I said ‘amen,’ we both heard a loud pop and the car shook violently. We had blown out a tire. I replaced the tire as quickly as I could, but we still missed her flight. We were both very upset and drove home.
I received a call from my father who was a retired New York Fire Department officer. He asked what my wife’s flight number was, but I explained that we missed the flight. My father informed me that her flight was the one that crashed into the southern tower. I was too shocked to speak. My father also had more news for me; he was going to help. “This is not something I can’t just sit by for; I have to do something.” I was concerned for his safety, of course, but more because he had never given his life to Christ. After a brief debate, I knew his mind was made up. Before he got off of the phone, he said, “Take good care of my grandchild.” Those were the last words I ever heard my father say; he died while helping in the rescue effort.
My joy that my prayer of safety for my wife had been answered quickly became anger. I was angry with God, at my father, and at myself. I had gone for nearly two years blaming God for taking my father away. My son would never know his grandfather, and my father had never accepted Christ, and I never got to say good-bye.
Then something happened. About two months ago, I was sitting at home with my wife and my son, when there was a knock on the door. I looked at my wife, but I could tell she wasn’t expecting anyone. I opened the door to a couple with a small child. The man looked at me and asked if my father’s name was Jake Matthews. I told him it was. He quickly grabbed my hand and said, “I never got the chance to meet your father, but it is an honour to meet his son.”
He explained to me that his wife had worked in the World Trade Centre and had been caught inside after the attack. She was pregnant and had been caught under debris. He then explained that my father had been the one to find his wife and free her. My eyes welled up with tears as I thought of my father giving his life for people like this.

He then said, “There is something else you need to know.” His wife then told me that as my father worked to free her, she talked to him and led him to Christ. I began sobbing at the news. Now I know that when I get to Heaven, my father will be standing beside Jesus to welcome me, and that this family would be able to thank him themselves. When their baby boy was born, they named him Jacob Matthew, in honour of the man who gave his life so that a mother and baby could live. This story should help us to realize this: God is always in control. We may not see the reason behind things, and we may never know this side of heaven, but God is ALWAYS in control.

Questions:

What are the different ways that God was at work, without their being aware of it, in the family of this couple?

What might have been the long-term result in the heart of the man whose father had died, if the man whose wife had been rescued did not visit him and tell him what had happened?

What did Jesus mean when He said to Thomas, “ “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” [John 20:29]?

GOD IS SOVEREIGN – 1

Bible Reading: John 7:1-8

Four times in John chapters 7 and 8 the authorities tried to arrest Jesus, but on each occasion they failed to succeed. This begs the question, “Why did they fail.” The answer is that it was not yet God’s time for Jesus to be arrested. “Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come” [John 7:30]. God was protecting Jesus!

The phrase, “The Sovereign Lord” is repeated many times in the Book of Isaiah. The Sovereignty of God is one of the great foundational truths of the Christian faith. Going through his awful trials, Job spoke of the sovereignty of God. Job’s testimony is that God is good and that he will trust Him whatever happens – “Though He slay me I will trust Him” [Job 13:15]. Job recognized that somehow God would bring good out of the trial – “When he has tried me I shall come forth as God” [Job 23:10], and He believed that God had a right to do what He did – He gives and takes away [Job 1:21].

The apostle Paul spoke of the sovereignty of God when he said, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” [Romans 8:28]. Notice the conditions attached to that promise – living in a right relationship with God [“those who love God”] and living in accordance with His will [“His purpose”].

Jesus fulfilled those conditions and God took care of Him. That was the reason why they could not arrest Him! We must beware of the danger of only trusting God in the good times. Remember that He is the Lord at all times, even in the storms. God is sovereign and even Satan cannot act unless God allows him to do so! Sometimes God is silent but even in the silence He is working on our behalf. For thirty-six chapters in the Book of Job God did not speak, until He spoke to Job in chapter 38. Through all that time He was still on the throne. He makes no mistakes!

I recently attended a thanksgiving service for an old friend. His doctor had failed to recognise the symptoms of his heart problem and could possibly have saved him. His work colleague, sharing at the thanksgiving service, said that this man’s spirit was such that if he were still alive he would not have taken action against the doctor, but would have said, “God is in control and this is His time to take me home.” Over the next two days we will look at two amazing testimonies of God’s sovereignty.

Questions:

I have sometimes heard people speaking about forgiving God. Do you think this is right if He never makes a mistake?

If you are walking with God, and in His will, can you accept that all things that happen to you actually work together for your good?

Christians are not free from the struggles and suffering of life, so what is it that makes the difference between someone who loves Jesus and someone who doesn’t know Him?