As Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the Church is built, so are his teachings the unifying cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

Peace in Our Fears

In John 20:19, what did Jesus mean, peace be with you? He said it on Resurrection Sunday and the following Sunday. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as "the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is." The apostles began their letters with this greeting. Christians ought to offer peace to friend and foe alike. Many churches offer peace before communion. Jesus came to the disciples in their fears and brought them peace from heaven. They were then sent with the message of peace, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

My Teacher

After our risen Lord called out Mary Magdalene’s name, she addressed Him very personally, “ῥαββουνί” (rabbouni, my Teacher). He asked her not to touch him because he had not yet ascended to heaven and she needed to go to the other disciples and tell them that Jesus is ascending to His and her Father and His and her God. Jesus told Peter, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” (John 13:36) But, he told Mary the disciples were his brothers. Mary exclaimed to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” John saw the empty tomb and believed. Mary heard Jesus and believed.

Woman, Why are You Crying?

After investigating Jesus’ empty grave two of the disciples went to their separate homes (John 20:10-16). Mary Magdalene was left crying at the tomb. Looking inside, she saw something quite different to what the two men described. Mary saw two angels. They asked her, ““Woman, why are you weeping?” In very personal terms she described Jesus as “my Lord.” Unlike the disciple that Jesus loved, who simply believed, Mary’s focus was on the missing body. Then Jesus asked her the same question adding “Whom are you seeking?” At first she thought he was the gardener and then He spoke her name, “Mary.” She seems to have immediately recognized his voice.

He Saw and Believed

Written as an eyewitness account, John 20:6-9 details what Peter saw when he looked into Jesus’ tomb, the burial cloths and the head cloth rolled up separately but no body. Then the beloved disciple went in and believed, implying that he was now convinced. Perhaps this was not yet a full resurrection faith, “For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead,” (verse 9; Psalm 16:8-11; Psalm 22:16-24; Isaiah 53:3-12) but it was a beginning. Jesus had earlier said, “I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe.” (John 14:29).

They Have Taken Away the Lord

Mary Magdalene was from Magdala a wealthy town on Lake Galilee. John 20:1-5 records that she went to Jesus’ grave site early in the morning perhaps just to see it. She had accompanied the disciples on their travels and contributed to their support financially. Had Jesus’ body been moved? Mary ran to Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. Although he arrived first, the disciple that Jesus loved seems to have deferred to Peter to enter the tomb. Peter’s denials do not seem to have damaged his reputation among the disciples, probably because they all knew that they had fled and Peter at least had stayed around for a while.

Save Please!

Matthew 21:9 Jesus approached Jerusalem with bands of Passover pilgrims chanting "Hosanna" or “Yashá Na” in Hebrew (“save please” Psalm 118:25) to the King of Peace, who brings a peace that passes all understanding. Worldly business, worldly government, worldly entertainment are not there to give but to get. They are there to get our money, to get power over us and use us for selfish purposes. Palm Sunday is to remind us that there is need for a new king, a king who will bring reconciliation between people and between people and God. Let us welcome Jesus into our lives as the peacemaker between ourselves and between all of us and God.

Rage Against the Machine

Matthew 21:8-9 A younger generation once expressed their struggle against evil as “rage against the machine.” Christianity is a protest movement against all the corruption and greed that has destroyed our world. Jesus’ triumphal entry was a real success, though not in the manner that the world views. The world does not see triumph in the cross, but self-sacrifice is the ultimate victory. It is the victory over self-centeredness. It is a victory over all the forces of evil in our world and worthy of a parade. Overcoming is our triumph and must also be like that of Jesus, refusing to win by worldly means with violence but by godly means with self-sacrifice.

Easter’s World Change

Matthew 21:8-9 Easter heralds a change in world power. Jesus conquered the powers of this world: death, sin and evil. Jesus triumphed over death and we celebrate the beginning of a new creation. Jesus’ new world order has put an end to a world overrun by sin. Palm Sunday remembers a parade celebrating that victory. Forgiveness of sin is now a way of life. Jesus offers humanity the freedom of life without condemnation. This evil world only had the power to put Christ on the cross. He willingly allowed it because he has power beyond the grave. Our dead lives have been raised with Christ as a new creation where love prevails.

Palm Sunday in the Heart

Matthew 21 There is historic evidence that Pilate was marching in parade into west Jerusalem with his army to police the large Passover crowds as Christ entered from the north. Jesus’ procession challenged and mocked the government of the day. Perhaps this is why Pilate acted as he did at Jesus’ trial. The world believes that the solution to human problems is a war horse instead of a peace donkey, using the word “donkey” as an insult instead. A world that more than ever disparages the Gospel and Christianity, is more than ever in need of it. Let us rejoice with a Palm Sunday parade in our hearts that heaven’s king is coming.

Mocking Pilate

Matthew 21:8 Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt mocked Pontius Pilate’s proud tradition as a cavalry officer. History records Pilate as a Roman knight of the Pontii family from the central Italian region of Samnium. He was a cavalry commander appointed military ruler of Roman Judaea to police and collect taxes. Roman Judea included historic Judea, Samaria and Idumea. Pilate insulted the Jews by hanging worship images of the emperor throughout Jerusalem and minting coins with both pagan and Jewish religious symbols. Jewish criticism of Pilate made him vulnerable to discipline from Rome. The Jews capitalized on this and Jesus’ insulting parade to obtain a death sentence on our Lord.

Why a Colt

Matthew 21:5 Contrast the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem on a colt with dignitaries of this world. One monarch has over 100 coaches and carriages in the royal collection. One is covered with gold leaf, weighs four tons and requires eight horses to pull it. Contrast that with Jesus’ royal entry into Jerusalem on a colt with its mother trailing behind. The old world order is over. The new kingdom is already here preparing a people. Old world leadership was self-aggrandizing and arrogant. New world leadership is self-effacing and humble. The colt symbolizes a new day for humanity, a change in leadership style and those who change will join Jesus at his return.

Jesus the Colt Whisperer

Matthew 21:5 As Jesus calmed the storm, he calmed an unbroken colt. Our lives can be like a wild colt, untamed and unpredictable. But, if we let Jesus take the reigns, he’ll calm things down. In business, if a person does not want to help, bosses yell and blackmail workers with their pay check. We cannot steer a church like a business, because a church is made up of volunteers. Churches cannot be yelled at unpleasantly or blackmailed. People just leave. So, as in all volunteer work, we are grateful for those who help, but we do not browbeat those who do not. We look to Jesus the colt whisperer, to change hearts.

Take off the Grave Clothes

From the day we are born we begin to die. Our bodies are winding down. We are already dressed in grave clothes. Life’s greatest enemy is death. Jesus has the power over life and death. As "God in the flesh", Jesus resurrected people temporarily from death, which was a foretaste of the resurrection to eternal life. In a skeptical world it is quite a challenge to hear that whoever lives by believing in Jesus will never die. That’s what he said as he boldly claimed, I am the resurrection and the life. So let’s take off the grave clothes of doubt and fear. Believe in Jesus Christ and live forever.

The Resurrection and the Life

When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life”, it was a claim to divinity. He has the power over resurrection and life. Notice that Jesus said “I am” and not “I will be.” He personalized resurrection in himself. Jesus demonstrated his authority over life and death by raising Lazarus. Then he said, “Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” The resurrection of Lazarus was a temporary example of what Jesus will do for all believers after death of the body. The body dies, but the spirit lives on, received into heavenly places.

I Am

A close friend of our Savior, Lazarus from Bethany, died. His sisters were Mary and Martha. The resurrection of Lazarus is a vision for the future and for today. When speaking to Martha, Jesus did not say that he would be the resurrection on that final day, although he certainly will be that too. He spoke in the present tense, “I AM the resurrection and the life.” Could it be that when we believe in Jesus, we already enter from death to life? We live in fear of death. God helps. We no longer need to fear death, because when we believe in him who is life, we have life too.

Public Prayers

Jesus taught us to pray in private (Matthew 6:6). Why did others pray publicly in God's house (Matthew 21:13), in small groups (Acts 1:14), by a river (Acts 16:13), on the seashore (Acts 21:5) and everywhere (1 Timothy 2:8)? The context of Jesus’ instructions regarding private prayer, with other examples, shows that he wanted to highlight what our motive ought to be in prayer. If we are uncertain that our motive may be to show off spiritually or promote ourselves as super-spiritual, then it would be better to pray in private. In John 11 Jesus prayed in public to help others, that they may believe.

Four Days Late

When Lazarus was reported dying why did Jesus delay (verses 5-6)? Why did disciples try to dissuade Jesus (verse 8)? Why did Thomas disparage Jesus’ plans (verse 16)? Why did Martha (verse 21) and Mary (verse 32) blame Jesus that if he had been there their brother would not have died? Why did Martha doubt that anyone could do anything after her brother had been dead four days (verse 39)? Is your marriage dead? Is your business dead? Are you too old to do God’s work? Are your hopes and dreams dead? That’s the perfect time for Jesus to come. God may delay answering prayer but he’s always right on time.

A Real Man Weeps

Jesus wept. Why? Theologians speak of Jesus having been the most complete human being to have ever lived since Adam. Adam sinned. So have we. Jesus did not. He was like Adam in every regard except one — he never sinned. He had human nature in its pure, unblemished form. He was the only man who ever lived to have pure, untainted manliness, as God intended it to be. We see that Jesus was deeply moved. It is not manliness to show no feelings. Was it anger or heartfelt compassion upon people with so little faith? It’s hard to tell. One thing is sure: a real man was moved to tears.

Why God Delays

Sometimes we pray and God delays. Why? Perhaps the healing of Lazarus will provide a clue. When Jesus heard of his friend’s sickness, he indicated that the illness would be used for God’s glory. While others panicked and were concerned, Jesus was calm in his faith. Then he went on to say that God’s purpose was “so that you may believe.” Lazarus’ sisters both responded quite emotionally that if Jesus had been there sooner he would not have died. By this time, he had been dead four days. Again Jesus emphasized the necessity to believe. Even his prayer, which was a public prayer, was said so that hearers may believe.

Photina of Samaria

After the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at the well, we read in John 4:42, Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.” The Samaritan woman went on to become a famous evangelist. According to tradition, she was baptized by the apostles with the name Photina, also known as Saint Photina and Saint Svetlana. She and her family became evangelists, moved to Carthage to preach the Gospel where her elder son Victor was taken prisoner to Rome where he converted his jailer.

Food to Eat

The disciples asked Jesus if he was hungry, and we read in John 4:34, Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. Jesus had food to eat that the disciples knew nothing about. Our food is also to do the will of God and finish his work. A harvest is ready to be reaped. God has already prepared that harvest in our community. Hearts are ripe for harvesting a new crop of Christians. A lone Christian who goes to church and hides all week long cannot harvest. We need to be in our communities and know our neighbors.

The Best Evangelists


After meeting Jesus at the village well, a Samaritan woman said to her fellow villagers in John 4:29, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” Professional evangelists put on an expensive show and leave a church with a flash of excitement and very little growth. The best evangelists are ordinary people. We don’t know the Samaritan woman’s reputation. She may have been a loner, who fetched her water at a time when the crowds were not there. The best evangelists are often new people and those from the fringes, but always those who have had an encounter with Jesus.

Worshipping in Spirit and Truth

Let’s read John 4:23-24, But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” Outward things like music, languages, robes, crosses, gestures and liturgies are NOT worship. They may accompany worship, but true worship is in spirit and truth, true or sincere. We do not need to feel judged or compelled to conform to any outward physical gestures or show of religion. We are free to worship the Father in spirit and truthfully.

A Woman Witness

Let’s look at John 4:16-18. “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!” Who was the woman Jesus met at the well? Let’s not read more into the story than it says. She’d had five husbands. Whether simultaneously, sequentially, divorced or widowed we don’t know. She lived with a man but their relationship is unclear. What is clear is that Jesus did not condemn her. He taught her about true worship.

Satisfying Every Thirst

In John 4:14-15 we read, But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman about living water, he was referring to something spiritual not physical. Unlike well water, living water is like a stream or river. It flowed from the woman’s encounter with Christ into her community. So the Gospel flows into our communities. We were all once enemies of Christ, drinking from a well with still water. Jesus offers us living water that flows regardless of ethnic or religious background. Only He can satisfy every thirst.

Living Water

Let’s look at John 4:10-11. Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? Jesus seized a Samaritan woman’s curiosity by speaking about living water, a term for flowing water. She assumed he meant good water from the well. But she was about to find out that he was speaking metaphorically about something entirely different, deeper truths which the whole world desperately needs to know.

Bigotry Busting

In John 4:7-9 we read, Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” Jesus broke several taboos talking with a Samaritan woman alone. He did not care. Jesus knew he was doing right. Do we care more about what others think than doing what is right?

An Unbiased Savior

Let’s look at John 4:5-6. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Jesus was not a bigot, but willing to enter a Samaritan village despite the hatred between Samaritans and Jews. The name Sychar is possibly a derogatory nickname, meaning a place of drunkards, similar to nick names like Sin City or Filthadelphia. Would we enter a neighborhood with a sinful reputation for the sake of the Gospel? Would we enter a bar even if Jesus himself was there?

Jacob's Well

Sychar is between Mount Gerizim (“cut up mount” meaning “rocky mount”) and Mount Ebal (perhaps “bald mount”). On the southern rocky mount Israel shouted the blessings and on the northern smooth mount they shouted the cursings (Deuteronomy 11). This could picture how the way to blessings is often rocky and the easy way is often the way to cursings. Between the two mounts is Jacob’s well. Sychar may be a derogatory nickname for Shechem. The nickname possibly meant place of drunks. The Greek Orthodox St Photini Church near Nablus, Israel, is now built over the well. Photini is a variant of the Christian name of the Samaritan woman in our story.

Saving the World

In John 3:17 we read, God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. We are extremists, either condemning or condoning sins. Jesus did neither. He did not condemn a woman caught in a sexual sin, but neither did he condone her sin. He did not come at that time to condemn the world. At the judgment that is a different story. While we recognize that sin exists in the world, we are not qualified to judge and condemn others. Let’s not be self-righteous haters but allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into lovers who are born from above.

How God Loved the World

In John 3:16 we read, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. This familiar verse has its true meaning clouded by a change in English from the old King James use of language. The English words “so loved the world” actually mean in modern English in this way or in this manner God loved the world. We could also say that God loved the world in this manner. How did God love the world? By lifting up his son on the cross as Moses lifted up a serpent.

Awakening to Ministry

Intro

When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection did He really establish confession to a priest?

Goal

Let’s understand what Jesus said and how it was understood in early church history.

Plan

Let’s look at John 20:19-31 and Jesus’ appearance to the disciples.

John 20:19 Peace in Our Fears

In John 20:19, what did Jesus mean, peace be with you? He said it on Resurrection Sunday and the following Sunday. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as "the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is." The apostles began their letters with this greeting. Christians ought to offer peace to friend and foe alike. Many churches offer peace before communion. Jesus came to the disciples in their fears and brought them peace from heaven. They were then sent with the message of peace, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

John 20:23 Sent Proclaiming Heaven’s Forgiveness

Does John 20:23 mean confession to a priest? Early church fathers taught confessing to God for most sins and in public for grievous sins. In the early Church, confession was before all. Western practices are from the 7th to 11th centuries and are not the most ancient interpretation of this passage. In the east, sins are confessed to God and witnessed by a priest. For practical purposes the priest represents the entire community. Verse 23 literally means, “their sins have already been forgiven” i.e. by heaven. This instruction was given to all those assembled. Anyone sent in power of the Holy Spirit is sent with this message of forgiveness.

John 20:23 Faith and Forgiveness

In John 20:23, does Jesus contradict his instructions mandating forgiveness in the Lord’s prayer? The gospel message is a message of forgiveness of sin to those who accept it, but those who refuse forgiveness are not forgiven. Thomas saw Jesus’ wounds, but faith is evidence of things without visible proof (Hebrews 11:1), a mystery. All the disciples doubted, not just Thomas. This is written that we might believe and that believing we might have life through his name. Faith is a gift from God. God entrusts incredible authority to faulty disciples. We accept the message of Jesus, delivered by ordinary faulty people, and will be forgiven when we do.

Early Church Fathers on Confession

Does the church have authority to forgive sins? This is a topic of dispute between Protestants and the two most ancient church communities, Catholic and Orthodox. Though its format has changed, the early church fathers seem to have accepted confession of sin to God in the presence of a priest as normal.
  • Didache ca. 70 AD “Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience... gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure.”
  • Irenaeus of Lyons 180 AD “make a public confession”
  • Origen of Alexandria ca. 244 AD “he does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and ... if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him [James 5:14-15].”
  • Cyprian of Carthage 250 AD “sins are expiated... conscience has been purged in the ceremony and at the hand of the priest... let everyone who has sinned confess his sin while he is still in this world”
  • Athanasius of Alexandria 295–373 AD “he who confesses his sins with a repentant heart obtains their remission from the priest.”
  • Basil the Great 330–379 AD “confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries [i.e. the Sacraments] is entrusted [i.e. priests]... in the Gospel ... they confessed their sins to John the Baptist [Matthew 3:6]; but in Acts they confessed to the Apostles [Acts 19:18].”
  • Augustine of Hippo ca. 354–430 AD “...when you hear a man confessing his sins, he has already come to life again; when you hear a man lay bare his conscience in confessing, he has already come forth from the sepulchre; but he is not yet unbound. When is he unbound? By whom is he unbound? “Whatever you loose on earth,” He says, “shall be loosed also in heaven” [Matthew 16:19; 18:18; Jn 20:23]. Rightly is the loosing of sins able to be given by the Church… (Psalms 101:2-3)
  • Ambrose ca. 333–397 AD “for sins to be forgiven ... Christ granted even this to His Apostles, and by His Apostles it has been transmitted to the offices of priest.”
  • Jerome  ca. 347–420 AD “Just as in the Old Testament the priest makes the leper clean or unclean, so in the New Testament the bishop and presbyter [i.e. priest] binds or looses”
  • Theodore Of Mopsuestia ca. 428 AD “It behooves us, therefore, to draw near to the priests in great confidence and to reveal to them our sins”
  • Chrysostom ca. 344–407 AD “Priests ... Whose sins you shall forgive,” He says, “they are forgiven them: whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” [John 20:23].
  • The Letter of Barnabas 74 AD “You shall confess your sins. You shall not go to prayer with an evil conscience.”
  • Ignatius of Antioch 110 AD “For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of penance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop.”
  • Hippolytus 215 AD [The bishop conducting the ordination of the new bishop shall pray:] God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ... pour forth now that power which comes from you, from your Royal Spirit, which you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and which he bestowed upon his holy apostles... and grant this your servant... to have the authority to forgive sins, in accord with your command.

Scriptures on Confession

What does the Bible say about confession?

Confessing Sin

“he shall confess that he has sinned” (Leviticus 5:5). “confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers” (Leviticus 26:40). “make confession to [God]” (Joshua 7:19) “in a great ceremony... confessed that they had sinned against the Lord” (1 Samuel 7:6).  David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13) “make confession to the Lord God” (Ezra 10:11). “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away” (Psalm 32:3). “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” (Psalm 32:5). “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
“confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel” (Daniel 9:20) “baptized ... confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6) “many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds” (Acts 19:18) “every tongue shall confess to God.” (Romans 14:11) “Confess your trespasses to one another” (James 5:16) “confess our sins” (1 John 1:9)

Confessing Christ

“whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32) “confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus” (Romans 10:9) “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11) “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims” (Hebrews 11:13) “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 4:2) “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (1 John 4:15)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Confession is an ancient part of a godly life. People confessed their sins publicly, and to God’s representative, and in prayer. Confession is good for the soul. Confession seems to come in two parts. We confess that we are sinners and that the sinless One is our Savior. In other words, after confession of sin comes forgiveness and public confession of faith in Christ.

John 20:28 MY Lord and MY God

At the cross all the disciples abandoned Jesus. He appeared to them and offered his peace. Thomas confessed very personally, “My Lord and my God!” He did not say OUR Lord or even THE Lord, but MY Lord and MY God. This is what is meant when people speak of a personal relationship with God. Jesus went on to give a special blessing to us who would believe even though we have not seen. We see Jesus, not with physical eyes. When we see Jesus with spiritual insight, we also believe like they did. And as Jesus revealed himself to those disciples, so he reveals himself to each of us.

Outro

We confess that we have not faithfully stuck by Jesus but have been fearful like those disciples. Jesus stands among as he stood among them granting us the peace which surpasses all understanding. Ministry begins when we openly confess our sins. Then it awakens as we are able to boldly confess the One who forgives us all our sins.

Lifted Up on a Pole

In John 3:14-15 we read, And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. God had punished Israel by sending poisonous snakes into their midst (Numbers 21:4-9). He instructed them to look at a bronze snake on a pole and they would live. And so, God provoked them to repentance and faith. Humanity is still in trouble and the solution comes through the man Jesus, who was lifted up on a pole. If we will keep our eyes on Him we will also live.

Who is in Heaven

In John 3:13 we read, No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. This literally says Jesus “is in heaven.” He was someone on earth and at the same time “in heaven,” in constant communion with the Father. Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth. In a similar sense, all believers are “seated in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6). Jesus is able to reveal heavenly secrets to Nicodemus because he “has come down from heaven” and “is in heaven.” In Jesus, there is a bridge from heaven to earth which no other brings because he came from heaven.

Heavenly Things

In John 3:9-12 we read, “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked. Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? The discussion changed to, “we tell you.” Who is the we? Does this include the prophets, heaven or the disciples? All Christians can only testify to what they have known and seen, and no surprise, some will not believe.

Born of the Spirit

John 3:7-8 says, So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” The means of entering the kingdom of heaven is being born from above. The new Spirit-born life is as mysterious as the wind. In specific terms, we cannot tell where the wind came from or where it is going. Christianity is not about physical rituals alone, but a life of faith trusting God where His Spirit is blowing us.

Spiritual Life

John 3:6 says, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.” Humanity seems to seek a form of immortality by giving birth to children. Yet, each of us who is born flesh will die. So will each of us who is born of water and the Spirit live forever. The Christian life is different than a physical life based upon material hopes and dreams. It is a spiritual life, based on spiritual hopes and dreams. The physical is temporary and passes away. The spiritual is permanent and cannot pass away. Only by being born from above can we enter the hope of eternity.

Born of Water and the Spirit

In John 3:5, Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Born from above is also born of water and the Spirit. We don’t enter our mother’s womb again, but the kingdom of heaven. Baptism in water is only complete with the transforming power of the Spirit. Christian baptism is water and the Spirit. Is Jesus referring metaphorically to the waters of birth as well as the waters of baptism? It seems Jesus primarily means the waters of baptism which can picture our physical birth and also our birth from above with the baptism of the Spirit.

Literal or Spiritual

In John 3:4 we read, “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Nicodemus seemed to hear Jesus words only as “born again” instead of “born from above” as Jesus intended. Immature believers often promote a literal understanding of things when heaven intends a spiritual meaning. Early Christians focused on literal circumcision instead of circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29). Being born again physically is not being born from above. Being reborn physically is impossible. Yet, even in old age like Nicodemus, life in Christ is new. We have every reason to live with youthful joy.

Born from Above

In John 3:3 we read, Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Born “again” also means “born from above,” from heaven, regeneration. According to the Opportunity Index, those born poor are less likely to have earthly opportunities. Everyone has a better opportunity in God than anything on earth. To be born from heaven above is to belong to heaven. Our allegiance is to a kingdom not of this world. We are each a child of God. Every status in this world is inferior to what we have from heaven. In God we have the highest status of all.

Knowing, Yet in Darkness

In John 3:2 we read, After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” Nicodemus came to Jesus by night representing others. He said, “we know.” In verses 19-21 Jesus spoke symbolically of darkness until light came into the world and we came into that light. In the Old Testament, the law was a light. Now it is Christ. Even the most devout and moral person who may obey all the commandments can still be in relative darkness, because the great light is Jesus.

Nicodemus

John 3:1 says, “There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee.” Nicodemus was a senator in the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. He appears three times in the Gospel of John (John 3:1–2; John 7:50-51; John 19:38-39). Jesus explained to this wealthy and popular Jewish leader the mystery of regeneration as was taught in the prophets. Nicodemus was not offended at Jesus’ teaching but received it in humility. He later defended Jesus against the Pharisees, assisted at his burial and was eventually kicked out of the synagogue for believing in Christ. He later retired to a country home where he died.

Summary of the Temptation of Christ

After Jesus’ temptation, Matthew 4:11 says, Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus. Moses taught three tests of our love of God, “love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)? John mentioned life’s great temptations, “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). False preachers tempt us with misusing miracles, foolish risks and materialism. It’s easy to do the right thing when people are watching. The Temptation of Christ was a victory in the wilderness far away from the watching crowd.

Jesus’ Third Test Response

Matthew 4:10 states the principle behind Deuteronomy 6:13, “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” Notice that Jesus substitutes the word fear from Deuteronomy with the word worship. The fear of God means worship. Jesus also calls Satan by name. Satan means the adversary. In passionately telling the devil to get behind him, Jesus reveals his total aversion to gaining worldly power through compromise with any evil. He will eventually have that power and far more from God and not the devil, for good and only good, without any hint of evil.

Who Rules the World?

Who rules the world? Satan is the ruler (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), the god of this world/age (2 Corinthians 4:4). We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, and against evil spirits (Ephesians 6:11-12). The world around us is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19). The devil is the one deceiving the whole world (Revelation 12:9-17). Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18). Christians are rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13).

Jesus’ Third Test

In Matthew 4:8-9 is the last of Jesus’ three temptations. Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” This is not as subtle as Jesus’ first two tests. Would he be tempted by the lust of the eyes for worldly power? Satan rules this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:11-12; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9-17). How many people have received great power from the devil?

Jesus’ Second Test Response

When tempted by the devil to take a foolish leap from a Temple wing, Matthew 4:7 says, Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’” He wasn’t fooled by someone twisting Scripture. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 where Moses and Aaron had tried to take glory to themselves for a miracle involving water, instead of giving God the glory (Numbers 20:7-12). This cuts to the heart of the test. Instead of bringing glory to himself with a big display, did Jesus only want to bring glory to the Father? Do we trust God at His word or provoke Him with our presumptuous self-will?

Jesus’ Second Test

In Matthew 4:5-6 we read, Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” Would Jesus be tempted by the pride of life and take a foolish leap from a Temple wing perhaps 50 meters above ground? How often do we take foolish chances without prayer? How often do we confuse a foolish jump with a Spirit-led leap of faith?

Jesus’ First Test Response

In Matthew 4:4 we read of Jesus’ response to the 1st of 3 tests as the tempter tried to trick him into turning stones to bread. But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” This is a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3, which tells us the context. God fed ancient Israel manna, so they would learn to be fed by Him and not their own efforts. Even though he had the power to make bread from stones, Jesus had the answer in Scripture and waited for His Father’s timing to be revealed.

Jesus’ First Test

Matthew 4:3 reveals the 1st of 3 tests on Jesus. We read, “During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” In this verse the tempter is introduced. His form is not given. He tries to incite Jesus to do his bidding. If he really is the son of God, he should not need to put up with lack of food. His appetite is tested. Would he use his heavenly powers to satisfy the lusts of the flesh? Would he pass the test? Do we follow the tempter’s untrustworthy words or God the Father’s?

Led by the Spirit

We read in Matthew 4:1-2, Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. In these verses, Jesus was tried. Did he love God1 with all his heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5)? Jesus’ responses2 come from a section of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6-8) that begins with the well-known saying, the Shema Yisrael (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) commanding our love for God. The Greek word for tempted also means being tested. Jesus’ love for God was being tested after a preparatory time of fasting. Would he pass the test?
1Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice Hall. 1990. 638.
2R. T. France. The New International Commentary of the New Testament. The Gospel of Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans. 2007. 124-136.