encouragement theology

The Educated Man

It is the Passover season in Jerusalem, 30 A.D. The province of Judea is led by a council of 70 elders, called The Sanhedrin.  This Council is sharply divided over the teacher who has come into town.  This man has claimed to be their promised Messiah, and then acted on these claims by throwing out the priests’ businesses from the temple courts.  The local priests and Sadducees are enraged, while the devout Pharisees in the council applaud this man for cleansing their temple from these corrupt practices.

 All of Jerusalem watches in amazement over the next few days as this man teaches and performs miracles.  His popularity grows daily as thousands come to hear him.  The council argues about what to do with him, yet they are unable to reach any conclusion.

But there are a few from the council who are different.  These few see more than an enemy, or a spectacular show.  This man must have come from from God.

One of these few was a leader of the Council, named Nicodemus.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee, one of the most devout keepers of the law. His Greek name shows that he was from a wealthy family and his title as a “ruler of the Jews” shows that he had wealth, power, and influence.  He is referred later as the “The teacher of Israel”, showing that he was famous as a teacher of the law [1].  In summary, Nicodemus was wealthy, educated, prominent, and very devout.  Yet Nicodemus was missing something very important.

Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus at night, probably to keep his meeting secret.  The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is recorded in John 3:1-21.


Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

 Nicodemus has seen Jesus’ signs and miracles and knows that he is from God.  But as we see in Jesus’ immediate response, that is not enough!


Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

 Nicodemus has accomplished a lot in life.  Nicodemus is a good man, but he is totally lost.

There is something much greater than your physical world.  The kingdom of God exists beyond what we can see, hear, or touch.  But unless you have a new life, you cannot even see this kingdom of God.  The term, “born again”, can be better translated as “born from above”.  You need to be given this new life from above.

“There was only one gate by which a man could pass into that kingdom of God – for that which was of the flesh could ever be only fleshly.” – Edersheim [2]


Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

 Nicodemus does not understand.  Here is a man who has done everything possible in this physical world.  But it is not about the physical world — Jesus is showing Nicodemus that he needs something more.


Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”

 How can you be born from above?  You need more than a physical birth (“born of water”), but you also need a spiritual birth (“born of the Spirit”).  Your physical being (flesh) will never give you life in the Spirit.  (See the bottom of this post for a detailed discussion about “born of water”).


“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

 Nicodemus is sitting with Jesus in an upper room of the house.  The Springtime winds would be blowing through the the narrow streets of Jerusalem, and Jesus uses this example to explain the Holy Spirit.  Both “wind” and “Spirit” are translated from the same Greek word: pneuma. The work of the Spirit is invisible and mysterious just like the blowing of the wind.  You don’t see it and you don’t know where it comes from, but you know when it is there.


Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

 Nicodemus still does not understand and Jesus replies with a rebuke.  Nicodemus is the premier teacher in Israel and he is having difficulty grasping the life in the Spirit.  The Old Testament scriptures teach that the Spirit of God will renew you (see Ezekiel 36:24-27).  Just like many of the other Jews of his day, Nicodemus did not understand this new life.


Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

 This is why Nicodemus does not understand.  It is not a matter of intellect but unbelief.  Nicodemus does not understand because he does not believe.  Nicodemus is not ready to hear about heavenly things until he first believes what Jesus tells him about what is on earth.

The final sentence shows that only Jesus is eligible to talk about heaven.  No one is able to talk about heaven except for he who came from there.


And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Jesus uses Nicodemus’ role model as a further example.  As a Pharisee and a teacher of the law, Nicodemus deeply revered Moses and the law that he gave to Israel.  But the Israelites did not obey and God sent poisonous snakes to kill them (see Numbers 21:5-9).  When the people cried out to God, God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and raise it up on a pole.  Anyone who looked at the bronze snake would live. 

Jesus uses the bronze serpent as an illustration of himself.  The bronze serpent represented God’s judgement. All a dying person needed to do was to look and be saved. Likewise, Jesus will be lifted up.  All a dying person needs to do is to believe in him and they will be saved.  Jesus will be lifted up when he is on a cross to to take God’s judgement for the entire world. 

We are all dying in this physical world (Hebrews 9:27-28).  Jesus has come to offer us a way to be saved from this world, and to be born a new life in the Spirit.

What does it mean to believe?  Believing in Jesus is much more than intellectual assent.  It is more than knowing the facts.  Believing in Jesus means that you realize that you are totally helpless and you trust him completely.

“If the uplifted serpent, as symbol, brought life to the believing look which was fixed upon the giving, pardoning love of God, then, in the truest sense, shall the uplifted Son of Man give true life to everyone that believes, looking up in him to the giving and forgiving love of God, which his Son came to bring, to declare, and to manifest.” – Edersheim [2]


For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Why would God give us eternal life?  Because of his love for the world.

What did it cost God to give us eternal life?  It cost him the life of his only Son.

What do we need to do to gain eternal life?  We need to believe.

Nothing else.  Just believe.


For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The world is already dying.  Jesus came into this dying world so that we might have life.  God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23,32) but he desires that everyone be saved (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9).


Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

We don’t need to do anything to be judged because we are judged already.  We already are in this sinful, dying world and we need to be rescued in order to be saved from it.  Those who don’t look to Christ are like the dying Israelites who refused to look at the bronze serpent.


And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

 Here is our final choice.  The contrast is between darkness and light.  When we think of evil people we think of murderers, thieves, etc.  But every one of us has done wicked things (compare Romans 3:23) and we are all in darkness.  We now have the choice: we can hold on to our sin or we can come to the light.


Previous post: The Corrupted Worship

encouragement theology Uncategorized

The Corrupted Worship

John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Malachi 3:1-2

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.

I am often reminded of a familiar picture of Jesus: he is wearing a spotless robe with a purple sash, looking sweetly and serenely into the distance.  These next events in John’s account show Jesus to be anything but sweet and serene. One of Jesus’ first public acts is to go into the temple and directly confront the corruption within the current religious system [2].  Jesus also fulfills the prophecy of Malachi 3:1, where the Messiah is promised to “suddenly come to his temple”.

 Passover was the greatest of the Jewish celebrations.  Jews from all over the world would congregate in Jerusalem in order to make a sacrifice in the temple at this time.

The temple was led by a ruthless group of priests at this time.  Led by Annas, the former high priest (and father-in-law to the current high priest), they had devised a system to make a massive profit off of the Passover pilgrims.  Most notably, their profit came in two ways:

  • All sacrifices must be certified as clean by the priests.  The priests would sit in the outer court of the temple and check each animal that was brought in for a sacrifice.  At this time, the priests would require the pilgrims to buy or trade their animals from only the local certified merchants.  The certified merchants would charge a huge markup, thus forcing the pilgrims to pay much more for what they already had.
  • All Jewish men were required by law to pay a temple tax.  This tax must be paid in the local currency and with exact change.  The traveling pilgrims would have a large variety of different currencies (both local and foreign) so the money changers would be available to convert to local currency and make change.  The abuse of this tax came in with the hume fees that the temple changers would charge in order to both convert currencies and to make change.

It is important to know that many of the local Jews hated the temple priests and they way they had corrupted their system of worship.  When Jesus cleansed the temple of these abuses, he gained instant popularity with the local Jews who also despised the corrupt priests in the temple.  While he had made enemies with the priestly leadership, his fame among the people would have protected him from any revenge from the priests for his actions. [1]

 In this brief scene, Jesus makes the statement twice that he is the Messiah.  First, he does the actions of the Messiah as predicted by Malachi.  He comes suddenly and purifies his temple.  This statement would not have been lost on his religious listeners, who knew the Old Testament prophets very well.  This was already a sign for the Jews yet they demanded more.

His second statement would only be understood by his disciples, and only much later.  Jesus promises that if they destroy this temple, he would raise it up on the third day.  The will try to destroy him, yet Jesus will triumph [1].  Even here at the start of his ministry, we see Jesus giving a message of hope that will only be received much later.


John 2:23-25

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

 The same original word Is used here for both “believe” and “entrust”. A better translation of this second sentence would read, “But Jesus on his part was not committing himself to them…”  Many people believed in Jesus when the saw his signs in Jerusalem. But Jesus knew that their beliefs were shallow and short-lived. Therefore he did not commit to them.

Jesus is reserving the core of his message to only those who believe.  This happened earlier in Cana (John 2:11), but it happens even more in this scene.  Jesus provides an invitation for all men, but he is looking for more than those with a passing fancy, or for those who are merely excited about what they have seen.  Jesus is looking for those who truly believe him and will completely trust him.

Previous Post: The Wedding Miracle


The Wedding Miracle

We use the term miracle today to describe something amazing or extraordinary.  Yet the miracles mentioned in The Bible were much more than what we talk about today.  God used a human messenger to deliver his message, but he would then give that messenger some power so that he could prove that the message was true.

Acts 2:22 ” “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—”

The New Testament uses three words for miracles [1]:

  • Miracles – (δύναμις) dunamis – powers or mighty works; never used in the Gospel of John
  • Wonders – (τέρας) teras – a wonder; used only once in John
  • Signs – (σημεῖον) sēmeion – sign; used several times through John, starting in chapter 2

As we follow John’s narrative to Jesus’ first miracle, let us first point out why:

John 2:11 ” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

Jesus performed this miracle so that people could see his glory, i.e. could see who he really was.  Even more specifically, this was so that his new disciples would believe in him.

One of the bright spots for the poor farmers in Galilee was the occasional wedding celebration.  The contracts were already made, the promises already committed, and now it was time for the groom to go and fetch the bride.  He would lead her to the home that he had prepared for them with the entire town following in the procession.  They marriage contract was completed and all invited guests would join in a large feast.  Depending on the wealth of the families, the marriage feast could last for several days.

But the wedding held much deeper meaning to the Jews than just the celebration.  Both the Old Testament scriptures and Rabbinic tradition taught that marriage symbolized God’s relationship with his people.  The more devout Jews would prepare for the wedding with fasting.  Some even believed that the wedding ceremony would forgive sins [3]  All faithful Jews would enter the ceremony with a ceremonial washing.

The narrative of the wedding in John 2 is very concise.  The entire scene of the wedding is more of a summary with few specific details.  Much has been written to try and “fill in the blanks” but this is what we know from the Gospel of John:

John 2:1-2
​ On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.

The setting is in town of Cana.  Mary is at the wedding in a position of responsibility (v.3).  Jesus is invited and travels up from Judea with his disciples.  (Note that Jesus’ disciple Nathanael is from Cana.) Cana is not far from Jesus’ home town of Nazareth.

John 2:3
When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

The crisis comes when the wine runs out. This was more than a social failure but a great humiliation to the new couple. This was a culture where hospitality is very important and they have just failed.

Mary comes to Jesus with the problem.  We are not told what she expects of Jesus: Is she asking her oldest son to take care of the problem [4]?  She clearly knows that Jesus is the Messiah, so does she now expect that he will perform a miracle?  Either way, we are not told what Mary is thinking.  Jesus’ immediate response makes Mary’s thoughts irrelevant.

John 2:4-5
And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus’ reply respectfully puts her in her place.  He replies with two brief statements:

Woman, what does this have to do with with me?

Jesus’ response is respectful, but he does not refer to her as his mother.  Instead, Jesus is telling her that he is no longer submitting to her as her son.  They have a new relationship now that he has begun his ministry.  The comment, “what does this have to do with me”, could be translated as “You misunderstand our relationship”. [5]

My Hour has not yet come.

Jesus further emphasizes that he now is taking direction from the Holy Spirit.  He will only act on the Spirit’s timing and not take orders from his mother. [6]

John 2:6-8
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it.

As mentioned above, it was expected for the Jews to purify themselves (ceremonially wash their hands) before entering the wedding ceremony.  This would have been a very devout family to gather this much water (120-180 gallons) for the guests’ purification.

John 2:9-10
When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

John makes a point to note here that the master of the feast was oblivious to what was going on.  All he knew was that now, at the end of the feast, they come out with the best wine.

This is Jesus’ first public act in his ministry and he starts at a celebration.  But as I reflect on this passage, it shows that Jesus is still working through personal connections with people.  In the previous chapter, we see Jesus call Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael through personal encounters.  Now, we see Jesus using a family celebration to show who he is, and to draw his disciples to him.

John 2:11
” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”


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