VIDEO I Am the True Vine

John MacArthur July 19, 2015

The Bible is the authority, the only authority, the only book that God wrote.  It contains 66 books – 39 books in the Old Testament, which is the revelation of God before Christ; 27 books in the New Testament, the revelation of God since the coming of Christ, together makes up the 66 books of the Bible.

In the Bible, God speaks.  It is His Word.  When we come together, we don’t come together to hear men speak, we come to hear God speak.  The responsibility then of the pastor and the preacher is to take the message from God and bring it to the people.  I’ve always seen myself, not as a chef, but as a waiter.  My responsibility is not to create the meal, but try to get it to the table without messing it up.  And that is the responsibility which I try to discharge, as we all do whenever we open Scripture.

So as we come to the 15th chapter of John, like anywhere else in the Bible, we are listening to God.  The writer is the apostle John.  But the writer is also God, the Holy Spirit who inspired every word that John wrote.  Because of this, the Bible is without error, it is accurate, and it is authoritative.  When the Bible speaks, God speaks.  And when God speaks, we listen, because God says to us what we must know.

The Bible should dominate every life and all of human society, for in it is contained all necessary truth for life in time and eternity.  And when a nation or a person rejects the Bible, they have rejected God, and the consequences are dire, dire.  Those who listen to God through His Word are given life and blessing, now and forever.

And so we come to the 15th chapter of John.  Just to set the stage a little bit, starting in chapter 13 and running through chapter 16, we find ourselves on Thursday night of Passion Week, the last week of our Lord’s ministry.  Thursday night was an important night.  He gathered with the 12 disciples to celebrate the Passover on that Thursday night when the Galilean Jews would celebrate it.

They met together in a kind of secret place that we call upper room, and our Lord spent that night telling them many wonderful things, giving them many, many promises.  As that night moved on, our Lord exposed Judas as the traitor, and dismissed him.  And Judas left to go meet the leaders of Israel to arrange for the arrest and subsequent crucifixion of the Lord Jesus.  By the time we come to chapter 15, Judas is gone, and only the 11 are left, and they are true disciples.

But as we come to chapter 15, they’re no longer in the upper room.  It is deep into the dark of night.  But chapter 14 ends with Jesus saying this: “Get up; let us go from here.”  Apparently at that time, they left the upper room, Jesus and the 11, and they began their walk through Jerusalem, headed out the east side of the city to a garden where our Lord would pray in prayer so agonizing that He sweat as it were great drops of blood.  And while He was praying, they would fall asleep.  And into that garden later would come Judas, and the Roman soldiers, and the Jewish leaders to arrest Him.  And there, Judas would kiss him; the betrayal would take place; and the next day, He would be crucified.

As they leave the upper room and walk through the darkness of Jerusalem, our Lord continues to speak to them, and what He says to them is recorded in chapters 15 and 16.  Of all these things that He says, nothing is more definitive than the first eight verses of chapter 15.  Our Lord here give not really a parable – although I guess in the broadest sense could be considered a parable because it is an illustration.  It’s really a word picture, a metaphor, a simile.

Listen to what He says, I’m going to read verses 1-8: “I am the true vine and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.  You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.

“I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”

Now it should be pretty obvious from that final sentence what the point of this analogy is.  This is about a vine and branches and fruit-bearing that proves someone to be a true disciple.  This then is about the nature of genuine salvation.  This is about the nature of genuine salvation.  This is a concern to our Lord, a concern to all the Bible writers, and a concern to all faithful Christians, and has been through history.  How does one know that one is a true disciple?  How does one know that one is genuinely headed to heaven?  How does one know that he or she will escape hell?  How do we know?

Nothing is more important than this.  Nothing is more important than salvation.  Nothing is more important than eternal life.  Nothing is more important than heaven.  How do you know?  In this word picture, we have everything we need to know.

But before we look at the nature of salvation, just a reminder: there is also, in the verses that I read you, statements that point to the nature of Christ.  Before we get to the nature of salvation, the essential reality of salvation, we have to acknowledge the nature of Christ, the essential reality of Christ.

The divine nature of the Lord Jesus Christ is here declared in verse 1: “I am the true vine,” He says.  And in verse 5 again: “I am the vine.”  How is this a claim to deity?  Because of the verb “I am.”

Back in Exodus, chapter 3, when Moses came before God in the wilderness and asked His name, God said, “My name is I Am That I Am.”  The tetragrammaton: the eternally existent one; the one of everlasting being; the always is, and always was, and always will be one.  Theologians call it the aseity of God, the eternal being of God.  He is the I Am.

Throughout His preaching, teaching, healing, discipling ministry, Jesus continually declared that He is God, He is God.  He said things like, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”

In a context of discussion about the Sabbath, He reminds them that, “The Sabbath doesn’t apply to God because God is at work all the time; and the Sabbath doesn’t really apply to Me either because I, like God, am at work all the time.”  They were infuriated that He would make such a claim.  That was in chapter 5 of John’s gospel.

Later in chapter 8 Jesus said, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing.  It is My Father who glorifies Me of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’  And therefore if God, who is your God, glorifies Me as God, you ought to also glorify Me.”  And again they were offended at such perceived blasphemy.

In chapter 10, He even said it more concisely: “I and the Father are one, one in nature and essence.”  In that same chapter, chapter 10 and verse 38, He said, “Though you do not believe Me, believe the works that you may know that the Father is in Me and I in the Father.”

All through His life and ministry, He claimed that He is God.  Every time Jesus said, “My Father,” which He said many, many times – every time He said, “My Father,” He was underscoring that He had the same nature as God.  And His Jewish audience did not miss the claim.  They were not at all confused.

In fact, in chapter 5, verse 18, this is what we read: “For this cause, therefore, the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but was also calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”  They understood that that is exactly what He was doing, exactly.  And one of the ways that He did that was by taking to Himself the name of God “I Am” and applying it to Himself.

There’s a series of those claims throughout the gospel of John.  He says, “I am the Bread of Life.  I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven.  I am the Light of the World.  I am the Door, I am the Shepherd, the Good Shepherd.  I am the Resurrection and the Life.  I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  And then He makes the stunning, inescapable claim, chapter 8, verse 58, “Before Abraham was born, I am eternally existing.”

Jesus is none other than the great I Am, the eternal God in human flesh.  Is that important to believe?  Listen to this, John 8:24, “Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.”

Can I say that another way?  If you don’t believe in the deity of the Lord Jesus, you’ll go to hell, that simple.  No matter how religious you are, how moral you are, how well your intensions might measure up with the best of humanity: if you do not believe that Jesus is God, you will go to hell.  If you believe He is a created being of any kind, no matter how noble or how elevated, you will go to hell.  You will die in your sins, which means you will die without forgiveness.  The penalty is eternal punishment.

The Jews understood exactly what He was saying.  It’s a shocking, shocking, devastating assault on Jewish theology.  Their theology had deviated from Scripture, the Old Testament.  But it was a well-developed system.  And Jesus attacked that theology.  He attacked their understanding of God, He attacked their understanding of the law, He attacked their understanding of righteousness, He attacked their perspective on works and faith and grace, He attacked all of the elements of their theology.  And then if that isn’t bad enough, that caused them to hate Him.  Then He claims to be God, which they see is the ultimate blasphemy, and that becomes the reason they want Him dead.

So here He is on the final night with His disciples, and He reveals another powerful declaration of His divine nature and says, “I am the true vine, I am the vine.”  Having looked at that, I want to take you to the most important part of the passage, and that is the nature of salvation, the nature of salvation.  I don’t think this is clearly understood by many people, but there’s no excuse, given these simple words.

The drama that unfolds in this analogy is simple: there is a vine, there is a vinedresser, and there are two kinds of branches – branches that bear fruit and pruned to bear more fruit; branches that don’t bear fruit, cut off, dried, burned – that simple.  As you well know, our Lord could say profound things in the most simple ways; and that’s exactly what you have here.

We know that the first two characters, Jesus said, “I am the vine – ” verse 1, and He said “ – My Father is the farmer, the vinedresser.  So we know the vine is Christ, and the farmer who planted the vine and cares for the vine is the Father.  But the question here is, “Who are the branches?  Who are the branches?”

There are branches attached to Him.  They’re all attached.  All the branches are attached.  But the ones that don’t bear fruit are cut off, dried, and burned.  So who are they?  Let me remind you of the context.  This all begins back in chapter 13 in the upper room, and it’s pretty clear that there are two types of disciples in that upper room.

Jesus is there, verse 1, very aware that His hour of death is coming.  And it says, “He loved His own who were in the world, and He loved them to the max.  He loved His own who were in the world, and He loved them to the max, to the eternal limits of His capacity to love.”  However, there was somebody else there, verse 2.  One of those disciples attached to Jesus, Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, it says in verse 2, “The Devil had already put it into his heart to betray Him.”

I don’t really think there’s a lot of mystery about the two branches.  What did Jesus have in His mind that night?  They had just left the upper room.  The drama that took place there over Judas, the exposure of Judas, the disciples, when Jesus said, “One of you will betray Me,” they said, “Is it I?  Is it I?  Is it I?” which is to say they had no idea it was Judas.

There was nothing manifestly obvious in the life and character and behavior of Judas that would have distinguished him as a false disciple.  He was visibly attached, and for all intents and purposes, looked like everybody else, did what everybody else did.  But, clearly, there were two kinds of people in that room that night.  There were those who bore fruit and there was that one who did not.  There were those who remained abiding in, remaining in, attached to the vine; and there was that one who’s cut off.

I’ve had some discussions with people around the world about this passage, and folks have said to me, “Well, this is proof that you can be in Christ, you can be attached to Christ, and you can lose your salvation.”  The Bible does not teach that, and the words of our Lord Jesus, in the gospel of John, are very explicit: “My sheep hear My voice – ” using another metaphor “ – and I know them and they follow Me.  And I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father who has given them to Me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one.  Together, we hold those who belong to our flock.”

In John 6, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me and I’ll lose none of them.”  This is not talking about believers, fruit-bearing branches that all of a sudden are cut off and thrown into hell.  This is talking about people who are attached, but there’s no life because there’s no fruit.

Judas had that very night just a few hours before walked away from Jesus terminally, finally.  He is what the Bible would call an apostate, an ultimate defector.  He had been for three years close, so close that people didn’t even know there was no life.  Judas now was on his way to the leaders of Israel to set up the deal to arrest Jesus to get his 30 pieces of silver, and to go from there to hang himself, and catapult into hell.

This is the reality of that night, and this has to be what’s behind our Lord’s thinking and speaking here.  He needs to explain to these men Judas.  Wouldn’t it seem natural to you that in this intimate talk with the beloved 11 that are still with Him, that they’re all still trying to process Judas.  He was high profile.  He was the one who carried the money, trusted.  They were trying to figure out just, “How did it happen?  Who is he?  How does he fit?  What’s going on?” and our Lord gives us an explanation.

He says, “There are branches that have an outward appearance of attachment, but bear no fruit.  They’re taken away and they’re burned.”  And He has to be thinking of Judas.  Judas, who was in close connection to Him, has left on his way to eternal hell.  And, in fact, the Bible says he went to his own place.  It says it would have been better for him if he’d never been born, Mark 14.

So our Lord helps us to understand the elements of the parable.  He is the vine, the Father is the vinedresser; the branches that bear fruit are the true disciples; the branch that bears no fruit, cut off and burned, is a false disciple.  That’s the way we understand His words.

There are, in the kingdom of God, possessors of life and professors: “Not everyone that says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into My kingdom,” Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount.  There are people who build a religious house, but they built it on sand, and rather do not build it on rock.  So Jesus really has gathered all the figures in the final night’s drama and formed them into a strong analogy full of meaning.

As we look at this metaphor, many truths unfold for us to consider, and we have to take time to deal with them to some degree.  But I think you can now see what the simple understanding is – and we’ll fill that in.  Let’s start with the vine, the first character in this picture.  The vine, Christ Himself: “I am the true vine,” verse 1, verse 5, “I am the vine.”

He chose to see Himself as a vine, to present himself as a vine.  He had earlier, in chapter 10, presented Himself as a shepherd with a flock.  He had earlier presented Himself as light.  He had earlier presented Himself as, through the Holy Spirit, water.  So He drew from familiar analogies.

And you might say, “Well, He referred to Himself as a vine because a vine is lowly, and a vine is in the earth and in lowliness.  The vine, if it weren’t propped up by some kind of wires or something, would just run along the ground, and this speaks of His lowliness.”  It’s a good metaphor to speak of His lowliness.

Somebody else might say it’s a good metaphor because it speaks of union, it speaks of the closeness and communion of those who are Christ’s with Him, the very same life flowing through the vine, flowing through the branches.  Others might say it’s a good symbol, it’s a good word picture because it talks about fruit-bearing, fruitfulness, the result of being in Christ is manifest.  Others would say it illustrates dependence, as our Lord said, “Without Me, you can do nothing.”  It illustrates that kind of dependence.

All the life comes from the vine.  It emphasizes belonging.  If you are connected, you belong.  And I think all of that is true.  But there’s another, much more important reason why He says, “I am the true vine,” and that is because there was a defective vine.

There was a corrupted vine.  There was a degenerate vine.  There was a fruitless vine.  There was an empty vine.  Who?  Israel, Israel.  That’s right.  The covenant people of God, the Jewish people.

Israel is God’s vine in the Old Testament.  In Isaiah 5, Israel as presented as a vine.  God says, “I planted My vine, My vineyard in a very fertile hill,” Isaiah 5.  And that chapter, verses 1-7, goes on to talk about everything God did to give them all that was necessary for them to bring forth grapes.  They produced beushim, sour berries, inedible, useless.  Israel was the vine.  And that metaphor carried through the history of Israel during the Maccabean period between the Old and the New Testament.

The Maccabeans minted coins, and on the coin was a vine illustrating Israel.  And on the very temple, Herod’s massive temple, there was a great vine that literally had been carved and overlaid with gold, speaking of Israel as God’s vine.  God’s life flows through the nation.  That was a symbol of Israel.  There’s much in the Old Testament.  Psalm 80 – sometime you can read Psalm 80 in its fullness – but Psalm 80 tells us the tragedy of Israel’s defection as a vine.

Just listen to a few of the words from Psalm 80: “God removed a vine from Egypt, bringing Israel out of bondage in Egypt.  Drove out the nation’s, planted the vine – ” like Isaiah 5 “ – cleared the ground before it, took deep root, filled the land.  The mountains were covered with its shadow.  The cedars of God with it’s bows, it was sending out its branches.  It shoots to the river.”  Then this: “Why have You broken down its hedges, so that all who pass that way pick its fruit?  A bore from the forest eats it away.  And whatever moves in the field feeds on it.”

God planted Israel and then turned on Israel in judgment.  Psalm 80 then says, “O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech you.  Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine, even the shoot which Your right hand has planted.  It is burned with fire.  It is cut down.”  Yeah, that’s Israel, that’s Israel.  Ezekiel said it is an empty vine, no fruit.  Isaiah says it produces sort of toxic, useless, inedible results.

Israel had been the stock of blessing.  Israel had been planted by God.  His life would come through Israel to all who attached to Israel.  But Israel was unfaithful, idolatrous, immoral, and God brought judgment.  That’s what the Old Testament lays out for us.

The disciples, like all the other Jews, thought, “Hmm, I’m Jewish.  I’m connected to God.”  Israel, the people of God, the Jewish people, are the source of divine blessing: “I am a Jew; I was born a Jew.  I’m the seed of Abraham; I’m connected to God.”  Not so.

Our Lord comes along and says, “If you want to be connected to God, you have to be connected, not to Israel, but to me.  I am the true vine, althinos.  I am the true vine.  I am the perfect vine.  Through Me, the life of God flows.”

Paul understood that.  He said Israel has all the privileges in the book of Romans.  They have a form of godliness, but they have no life.  They don’t know God.  They’re alienated from God.  He’s the true vine.

Just to give you a comparison, in the 8th chapter of Hebrews, the writer of Hebrews says, “Jesus is the true tabernacle.”  He’s the true tabernacle.  He is the true vine.  He is the true tabernacle.  He is the true temple.  It is through Him that the life of God flows.

Colossians 2:7 says, “We are rooted and built up in Him.”  These disciples know Israel is going to be destroyed.  They know the temple’s going to be destroyed.  He already told them that just hours before this.  They know it’s all coming crashing down.  It’s over.  He pronounced judgment on them, not one stone upon another.  The fury of God is going to be unleashed.

It’s important that we understand that the stock of blessing is not Israel.  “Not all Israel is Israel,” said Paul.  Christ is the true vine just as He said in John 1, He is the true light.  And in John 6, the true bread.  He is the true vine.

Anybody who’s going to know the life of God has to connect to Him, and has to connect to Him genuinely as God, as the I Am.  All other vines are false vines.  Israel is a degenerate, dead vine.  Christ is the true and living vine.

Isaiah says Israel, as a vine, has run wild.  Jeremiah says Israel has become a degenerate plant, a strange vine.  It’s as if Jesus was saying to those men, “You think that because you belong to the nation Israel, you are secure in your connection to God.  Not so.  You think that just because you’re a Jew and a member of the chosen race, you are connected to the blessing of God?  Not so.  I am the vine and life flows only through Me.  I am the way, the truth, the life.”  So He is the vine.

Now the second character in this picture is the vinedresser, verse 1: “My Father is the vinedresser.”  That’s the farmer, the person who cares for the vine.  Christ pictures Himself as having been planted by God, and that’s true.  The Father was behind everything that Jesus did.

The Father sent the Son into the world, right?  That’s what Scripture says.  The Father laid out the plan.  Jesus said, “I only do the will of My Father.  I only do what the Father tells me to do, shows me to do, commands me to do.  I only do what pleases the Father.”

The Father cared for Him.  The Father provided a virgin so that He could be virgin-born.  The Father provided everything for Him.  The Father provided the Holy Spirit to empower Him through His ministry.  The Father provided everything He ever needed.  So it was the Father caring for the Son, and it is the Son who is the One who possesses true, divine life.

Now verse 2 then introduces the branches, the branches.  And there are two kinds of branches.  “They all appear in Me, every branch in Me.”  They all are attached, just like there were lots of people attached to Israel in the past.  But not all Israel is Israel, and not everyone who is a Jew is really connected to blessing.  They were attached, they were connected, but there were branches that – it says at the beginning of verse 2 – that do not bear fruit.  And He takes those away, the Father does – the Father is the judge.  And then there were branches that bear fruit, and He pruned those so that they would bear more fruit.

The Father is at work and He’s doing two things, two very divine works.  He is judging false branches – cutting them off, drying them out, and sending them to hell; and he is pruning true fruit-bearing branches.  This is the Father’s work.

Now let’s look at these branches and just consider what this is saying.  The vine is flourishing, growing luxuriantly, but some serious steps are taken by the vinedresser, the farmer.  First of all, when He sees a branch that has no fruit, He takes it away, He takes it away.  Down in verse 6, He throws it away, it dries up.  Those branches are gathered, cast into the fire, and burned.  That is drastic judgment by God on false believers, false believers.  No fruit.

You say, “Does every Christian have fruit?”  Yes, every Christian has fruit.  That’s how you know you’re a Christian.  What is fruit?  Righteous attitudes, righteous longings, righteous desires, righteous affections, righteous virtues, righteous behaviors.  That is the manifestation of life; and where the life of God exists, the fruit must be there.

That’s why Ephesians 2:10 says that we have been saved by grace through faith, unto good works, which God has before ordained that you should walk in them.  It can’t not be that way, because where there is the life of God and the soul of man, it becomes evident.  That’s what it says at the end of verse 8.  When you bear much fruit, you prove to be a true disciple.  James said, “Faith without works is – ” what “ – is dead,” it’s useless claim.  The only way you know faith is real, salvation is real, is by the evidence.

Matthew 7, Jesus said, “You’ll know them by their fruit,” and that’s repeated a number of times in the gospels.  Paul in Romans 6 says, “You were slaves to sin, and now in Christ you become slaves of righteousness.”  We’re known by our fruit.  We’re known by the manifest evidence of transformation.

That’s the only way you can tell a person’s a Christian – not by remembering an event, not by remembering a prayer, not by some wishing and hoping.  The way you know someone has been transformed and regenerated and born again is because the fruit of righteousness is manifest in that life.  It’s not perfection, but it’s a dominating direction.  There are people who attach to Christ and are fruitless.

Look, the whole nation of Israel is seen in chapter 11 of Romans as a branch attached to God.  But they were cut off because of unbelief and sin, and a new branch, the church, was grafted in.  They had an attachment to God, but it was fruitless.  There are many people who are attached to Christianity, attached to the church, attached some way to Christ.  But time and truth go hand-in-hand.  Given enough time, the truth will come out.  And ultimately either in this life or the next – for sure in the next – the Father will send them to the fire.  This is a concern all through the gospel of John.  In fact, in chapter 6, many of His disciples walked no more with him.  Remember that?  It’s a call to true discipleship.

There are Judas branches in every age superficially attached.  But let’s look at the possessing branches in verse 2.  Every branch that bears fruit, evidencing the life God, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.  So the Father does hard work.  He completely whacks off the entire branch that is fruitless so that it doesn’t suck the energy out of the vine uselessly.  They’re gathered and burned.

But He comes back at the fruitful branches and He prunes them.  He purges them.  It’s actually a verb kathair that means to make clean.  But it was used in agriculture for pruning.  It could mean removing waste matter after winnowing grain.  It could mean cleaning weeds out of the soil before planting grain.  But it also can mean anything that cleans the plant to make it more productive.

Philo, the Jewish theologian at the time of the early New Testament said this: “As superfluous shoots grow on plants, which are a great injury to the genuine shoots in which the vinedresser cleanses, and he uses kathair this same word, and prunes because he knows it’s necessary.  So God whacks off some branches completely, false believers who spend eternity in hell.  But for the rest of us, God goes to work on us with a knife, with a knife.

In ancient times, I’ve read that sometimes there was a pinching process.  It even started with the hand between the first finger and the thumb to literally pinch the end of a growing shoot that could cause it to die.  There was sort of a removal of kind of a dead end of a branch.  And then there was the thinning of all the sucker pieces coming off that branch.  Lots of ways to do that, but all had the same purpose in mind, and that was so that the branch would be more productive.  That’s the work of the Father for what He does.  The Father comes into our lives with a knife to cut away sin and was us superfluous.

In Hebrews 12:1 it says, “Laying aside the weight – ” right “ – the weight and the sin.”  We all have sin in our lives; it ought to be cut off.  But we also have stuff that doesn’t necessarily get categorized it’s sin.  It’s just unnecessary, wasted, superfluous.  Sucker branches.

The Father comes along in our lives with a knife – it’s painful – and He cuts.  He cuts sin.  He cuts useless, wasteful behavior, preoccupation with things don’t matter.  How does He do that?  He might do it through sickness.  He might do it through hardship.  He might do it through the loss of a job or loss of a friend, loss of a loved one, loss of material goods.  He might do it through the loss of reputation, slander.

He might do it through failure, something you worked really had to pull off.  And He might do it through persecution from people outside, and people you know and even love.  He might do it through grief.  He might do it through disappointment.

It might be extremely painful emotionally.  It mist be extremely painful physically.  God orders trouble.  This is God providentially using the knife.  God orders trouble.

The best thing that can happen to us to prune us is trouble.  Second Corinthians 12: “When I am weak – ” the Bible, Paul says “ – then I am – ” what “ – strong.”  I would rather be content with afflictions, difficulties, weakness, trials, because in my weakness God’s strength is perfected.  James 1: “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, because the testing of your faith produces patience, and patience has a perfecting work.”  Peter put it this way: “After you’ve suffered awhile, the Lord makes you perfect.”  That’s the knife. 

You want to welcome that because you want to be more fruitful.  You can chafe in self-pity and wallow around in disappointment complaining, brooding, full of anxiety when things don’t go the way you think they ought to go.  Or you can look heavenward and so, “God, thank You.  Thank you for working on me to bear more fruit.  More fruit.”

You could say, “Why me, God?  Why me?  Why did this happen to me?  How could it ever be?”  Or you can say, “Thank You.  Thank You, Lord.  Thank You.  I embrace this like the apostle Paul.  I embraced this like James: ‘Count it all joy.’  I embrace this, because this pruning means God intends for me to bear much fruit.”

Another way to look at that is in the language of the writer of Hebrews in chapter 12.  Listen to what he says: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline, nor faint when you are reproved by Him, for those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He received.  It is for discipline that you endure.  God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom his father doesn’t discipline.

“But if you’re without discipline of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them.  Shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them.  But He disciplines us for our good so that we may share His holiness.  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful.  Yet, to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”  More fruit, more righteousness is the product of divine discipline – trials, tribulation, trouble.  The believer is to expect this to be fruitful.

And I want to add something here.  The vinedresser has a knife.  What precisely is that knife?  Verse 3 answers that: “You’re already clean because of the word which I’ve spoken to you.”

You’ve already been saved, and you were saved through the Word, right?  Faith comes by hearing the Word.  You were saved by believing the Word.  It was the Word that did its work in you, begotten again by the Word of Truth, Scripture says, and you will be pruned by the Word.

In the final analysis, it’s not the afflictions themselves that are the knife, it’s the Word of God that is the knife.  Now let me explain that.  It is not the affliction itself that is the knife, it is the Word of God that is the knife.

Now we should understand the Word of God is a knife from Hebrews 4:12, “The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  It’s a two-edged knife and it cuts every direction, the Word does, the truth of God.

So here’s the idea.  The Father is the discipliner.  The Father is the one who in His providence, brings about the trials, the troubles, that cause us concern.  The Word becomes, however, the actual cutting instrument, because when the trial comes and we react wrongly, the Word convicts us.  The Word cuts into our disrespect for God’s purposes.  The Word cuts into our hostility.  The Word cuts into our anger.  The Word cuts into our questioning, and it indicts us.  Trials are the handle of the knife.  The blade is the Word of God.  The Father brings the trial, and the blade is the Word of God.  The Word is the knife.

Listen to how Spurgeon explained this: “It is the Word that prunes the Christian.  It is the truth that purges him.  The Scripture made living and powerful by the Holy Spirit eventually and effectively cleanses the Christian.”

He says, “Affliction is the handle of the knife.  Affliction is the grindstone that sharpens the knife.  But the knife is the Word.  Affliction is the dresser.”  He says, “Affliction is the dresser that removes our soft garments and lays bare the diseased flesh, so that the knife may get at it.”  Affliction makes us ready for the knife, to feel the Word of God.

The true pruner is God.  Affliction is the handle and the occasion.  But the pruning, the Scripture is the knife that cuts.  Why?  So that we would bear more fruit.  The more you know the Word, the more you love the Word, the better you react to trials, right?  The more you allow the knife to do its work.

You know, we should be praising God all the time here because, as a church, we are so submissive to the Word of God.  We know it so well, that when we get into these issues of life that surround us, whatever they may be – these disappointments, these elements of suffering and trial that are so much a part of life – we know the Word of God.  And we not only know it, we trust it.  We not only trust it, we love it.  We not only love it, we want it to do its work, and so we submit to the knife.

And I believe that that is why this church is so fruitful.  That is why the fruit from this church circles the globe.  You bear much fruit because you have suffered and let the Word do its work, bringing conviction, cutting away the sin and the things that don’t matter.  That’s how it is in the kingdom, that a lot of people attach to Christ.  Some will be cut off and burned, some bear fruit; and those that bear fruit, the Father works on to bear more fruit, much fruit.  That’s the kingdom.

We’re thankful, aren’t we, that we know that we are fruit-bearing branches.  If you don’t know that, you’re in a very dangerous situation.  Take warning from this passage.  Come truthfully to Christ, genuinely to Him.

Father, we are again this morning so blessed together, so thankful.  We ask now that You would confirm to our hearts the truth, and set it loose in every life to accomplish Your purpose.  We pray in Christ name.  Amen.

https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/43-79/i-am-the-true-vine

MIT chaplain forced to resign after citing George Floyd’s rap sheet to students

MATT LAMB – ASSISTANT EDITOR

Although the priest argued for forgiveness, the message was lost on students

The Archdiocese of Boston forced Daniel Moloney to resign from his chaplain role at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after students and alumni complained that Moloney brought up George Floyd’s past criminal history in an email to students.

Although Moloney, a Catholic priest, was making an argument that Floyd’s past should not justify his death, the fact that he brought up Floyd’s rap sheet at all prompted some to protest the chaplain’s message to campus officials and file bias complaints over it.

“George Floyd was killed by a police officer, and shouldn’t have been,” Moloney wrote in his June 7 email to the Tech Catholic Community, a group of Catholic students on campus.

“He had not lived a virtuous life. He was convicted of several crimes, including armed robbery, which he seems to have committed to feed his drug habit. And he was high on drugs at the time of his arrest. But we do not kill such people. He committed sins, but we root for sinners to change their lives and convert to the Gospel,” the priest wrote.

“ … In the wake of George Floyd’s death, most people in the country have framed this as an act of racism. I don’t think we know that. Many people have claimed that racism is major problem in police forces. I don’t think we know that.”

The e-mail was republished in its entirety by New Boston Post.

Although Moloney’s argument aimed to promote justice and forgiveness, that message seemed lost on many of its readers.

An article in The Tech campus newspaper reports that MIT’s dean for student life, Suzy Nelson, said administrators and the bias response team received reports about Moloney’s email.

In an email to student and faculty leaders June 12, Nelson wrote Moloney’s message “contradicted the Institute’s values” and “was deeply disturbing” and that “by devaluing and disparaging George Floyd’s character,” Moloney did not “acknowledge the dignity of each human being and the devastating impact of systemic racism” on “African Americans, people of African descent, and communities of color,” The Tech reports.

The Archdiocese of Boston told Moloney to resign from his role as chaplain at the school on June 9, according to the Boston Globe. The move came after more than 60 people attended a forum hosted by Tech Catholic Community on June 9, according to the school newspaper.

Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told WBZ-TV “While Fr. Moloney’s comments should not reflect on the entirety of his priestly ministry, they nonetheless were wrong and by his resignation he accepts the hurt they have caused.”

Moloney told the Boston Globe on June 16, “I regret what happened, I regret it was misunderstood, I regret that [it] became difficult for me to be a voice for Christ on campus.”

Moloney is a published author at First Things, The Wall Street Journal and National Review. He used to work at the Heritage Foundation as a senior policy analyst for the DeVos Center for Religion and Society. His doctoral dissertation focused on justice and mercy, the subject of a recent book he published as well. He also maintains an active Tumblr page but has not explicitly addressed the controversy on it.

MORE: Conservative prof says seminary used COVID as excuse to get rid of him

MIT chaplain forced to resign after citing George Floyd’s rap sheet to students



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VIDEO John MacArthur: It’s Too Late for America, but Not for the Elect

By Stephanie Martin -March 31, 2021

judgment of god

In a Palm Sunday sermon titled “Chosen for Him,” California pastor and author John MacArthur warned that America is already experiencing the judgment of God, in part for its sexual sins. Like the Old Testament Israelites and the Jews of Jesus’ day, he said, “It is too late. Judgment is already in motion.” Only for a “remnant,” or “the elect,” is that not the case, MacArthur added.

The controversial preacher, who has repeatedly pushed back against coronavirus-related church closures, spoke Sunday at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley. His main text for the hour-long sermon was the parable of the vineyard owner in Mark 12, a parable MacArthur labeled as one of judgment and destruction. In that story, the tenants kill the landowner’s servants—and even his beloved son, the heir.

The Judgment of God: Destroyed Due to Willing Unbelief

The chapter preceding that parable features Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as well as his cursing of the barren fig tree and his clearing of the moneychangers’ tables in the temple courts. Those acts of cursing and clearing are the opposite of what people would have expected from Jesus on Palm Sunday, MacArthur said. “The people welcomed Jesus as a king; he came as a judge. The people wanted him to bless them; he cursed them. The people thought they were the people of God; Jesus described them as the children of the devil.”

Although the people of Jesus’ generation received signs, said MacArthur, many still refused to believe (John 12:37). In the final verses of Acts, the Apostle Paul also describes willing unbelief, noted MacArthur, resulting in God’s salvation being sent instead to the Gentiles.

In his sermon, MacArthur also referenced Isaiah chapter 1 and its series of “woes.” God, as the vineyard owner, sent numerous Old Testament prophets to warn his people, but the Israelites rejected them all, and vengeance resulted.

“A generation of people can come too late to Christ,” MacArthur said, adding that it was too late for the Old Testament Israelites, who were taken into captivity in Babylon, and also too late for first-century Jews, who endured the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD and had to scatter. “It can be too late for every nation,” MacArthur said, pointing to Acts 14:16, which says God allows all nations to “go their own way.”

Both Isaiah’s generation and Jesus’ generation “had their opportunities,” MacArthur noted, but for both it became too late. “The temple was never rebuilt, the priesthood was never recovered. No sacrifices, no ceremonies, no Sadducees, no Pharisees, no priests, no chief priests to this day. The whole system ended.” Meanwhile, the rejected “stone”—Jesus Christ—became the cornerstone, which is “marvelous in our eyes” (Mark 12:10-11).

John MacArthur: This Also Applies Today

Next, MacArthur turned to Romans 1:18, which refers to wicked people suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. “How do you know when a nation passes the point where salvation is possible for a people?” asked the pastor. “When any society suppresses the truth continually, it can go past the point where God will hear. It can be too late.”

Citing other verses in Romans 1, MacArthur said, “God gave them over to a reprobate mind, a non-functioning mind. When you see a nation deep in sexual sin, pervasively affirming of homosexuality, and the insanity of a reprobate mind, where they make laws to criminalize righteousness and to legalize gross evil, you know that nation’s under judgment.”

For Christians, said MacArthur, our message to America is this: “It’s too late” because “we’re under judgment” already. “Judgment has been unleashed. You can hear, but not understand. You can see, but not perceive.” But, the pastor added, “It’s not too late for the elect.” Though most Americans’ hearts have been hardened by God, a remnant remains. “God has his people,” MacArthur said. “So we warn, because we don’t know who those people are, and we also offer the grace of the Gospel. That’s our calling.”

Previous Warnings Against Moral Decline

Warnings about immorality, unbelief, and the judgment of God aren’t new for MacArthur. While appearing on Laura Ingraham’s show last November, the pastor proclaimed, “America is in a moral free-fall.” He said, “This is a nation so far down in the sewer of immorality and wickedness that nothing surprises me.” A month later, MacArthur preached about the state of the world, saying it “appears to be perfectly suited for the Antichrist to come.”

In a 2012 sermon titled “Homosexuality and the Campaign for Immorality,” MacArthur said, “Romans 2 says the Law of God is written in the heart. But when man abandons God as revealed in creation; when man abandons God as revealed in conscience; when man abandons God as revealed in Holy Scripture, suppressing the truth, God judges that society. And though that society may consider itself to be wise, it is, in reality, the ultimate ship of fools. The heart becomes darkened when God is abandoned, and then God abandons the darkened heart.”

Later in that sermon, MacArthur said America’s Democratic Party has made “the sins of Romans 1” its “agenda.” He continued, “The Democratic Party has become the anti-God party, the sin-promoting party”—but then rejected the claim that he was being political. “Romans 1 is not politics,” said the pastor. “The Bible is not politics.”

As for the consequences facing America from the judgment of God, MacArthur stated: “If you want to see a picture of God’s attitude toward homosexuality, what’s going to happen when Romans 1 reaches its ultimate culmination and judgment comes, or when God does what he said he was going to do, in the writings of Moses, to nations that are defiled, that he would bring about their spewing out, here’s an illustration in Genesis 19.”

He then described how God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, adding, “That’s an illustration of how God feels about a society that affirms homosexuality and people that conduct themselves this way.” Homosexuality, MacArthur added, “is always a deadly sin, and always a defining sin, and always a damning sin.”

Behold Two Paintings That Show A Miraculous Christmas Meeting

Two historic women, one old and one young, were the first to welcome and praise the Savior of the world. And two glorious paintings communicate the beauty of these wondrous events.

Behold Two Paintings That Show A Miraculous Christmas Meeting

Dec 23, 2019

If quizzed “Who was the first person to welcome Jesus and announce his lordship?” how would you answer? It’s an important question when we consider that this man from the nowhere town of Nazareth is the most consequential individual ever.

His teaching and followers across the globe radically transformed world culture, toppled great powers without ever firing a shot, established the world of humanitarianism and accessible medical care for commoners, inspired the scientific method, and enlivened the world movements for justice, human dignity, and individual freedom. He literally divides history and is responsible for the founding of the largest, most diverse collection of people around some basic ideals.

This all started with two women no one had ever heard of, whose life-altering experiences are now illustrated in two exquisite works of art. Mary, a humble, young virgin, by tradition about 14 years old at the time, is told by an angel she will give birth to the very Son of God. At this striking news, she “arose and went with haste” to see her cherished relative, Elizabeth, some 90 miles away.

Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her own miraculous pregnancy, for she was well past child-bearing years. Of course, her baby was Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.

The beauty of this part of the Christmas story is the miracle that happens the moment Mary enters Elizabeth’s home. Christ is recognized, received, proclaimed, and worshiped, and Mary and Elizabeth are not the only two involved in the divine drama here. We read in Luke 1:41-44:

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

This is a major event in Jesus’ story and thus the Christian church, but we seldom appreciate it as such. It is the first time Jesus is both proclaimed and worshiped as God! This was done, we are told, “in a loud voice.” And Christ the Lord is worshiped by two people at the same time — one very old, one super young.

The First to Proclaim Jesus’ Lordship

Elizabeth proclaims the blessedness of Jesus and his mother. The simple but world-changing confession, “Jesus is Lord,” was the first and most basic way Christians began to proclaim their faith and greet one another in the church’s early years. It was the first Christian creed, and Elizabeth was the first to proclaim it, long before Christmas morning. Think on that for a moment.

The second greeting is even more incredible and speaks to an intimate relationship in the Savior’s life. Baby John leaps for joy, literally, at the coming of the Savior. He does so as a child in the darkness of his mother’s womb. (Yes, Christianity has profoundly strong words for the humanity and dignity of the unborn child in John and Jesus’ remarkable in utero contribution to the good news.)

John did not start serving as the forerunner of Christ when preaching about his coming in the desert. It was here, in the womb. And it was two very common mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, who experienced this remarkable, history-changing event. It happened in distinctly womanly interiors of their hearts and wombs, and in the humbleness of Elizabeth’s home. Humble motherhood and the intimate bond only mothers can share is the human font of the Christian story.

To be sure, the Christian church, which is often incorrectly charged with being sexist by people who know little of its actual story, is founded upon two women being the first to welcome and praise the Savior. (Remember as well, it was a small group of women who announced the “second birth” of the Savior, if you will, at his resurrection.) What other major faith or philosophy has women playing such a significant role in its founding? I cannot think of one.

Two famous paintings communicate the beauty of these wondrous events, “The Annunciation” and “The Visitation.” The first African-American painter to achieve significant critical acclaim, Henry Ossawa Tanner, created both. He is a remarkable man and one of my favorite artists.

Christmas paintings by Henry O. Tanner

‘The Annunciation’

One of the things I like best in Tanner’s two works here is that he shows us the simple humanness of Mary and Elizabeth. They are not supernatural, other-worldly, saintly subjects in the typical sense. Tanner’s images show us the regular, everyday women they were.

Christmas Painting The Annunciation

He will not allow us to miss the youth, innocence, and commonness of our Mary. Tanner doesn’t give her a facial expression communicating anything obvious. Is she scared? Stunned? Joyful? Solemn? His Mary is more complex than many artists’ as is undoubtably true of the actual event. Tanner has her communicating all these feelings and struggles at once.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with this most startling news, he found a teenage girl living a typical teenage girl’s life. The greatest royal announcement in the history of the universe takes place in this teen girl’s humble bedroom, illuminated by the majesty of God’s oracle. That is precisely what Tanner gives us, and it’s just stunning. Also, his technique in presenting the folds and flow of her gown and bed coverings is nothing short of magnificent.

‘The Visitation’

As wonderful as Tanner’s “Annunciation” is, his “Visitation” is even more striking.

Just look at it and consider what’s happening here.

When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Christmas painting The Visitation

Tanner allows us personally to witness this event. Elizabeth most likely did not have any notice that Mary was coming or the grand news that prompted the visit. She sits at the table on an ordinary day, when she hears Mary possibly utter what any of us likely would as she comes to the door, “Liz, you home?”

Elizabeth’s divine surprise and wonder is dramatically communicated simply in her uplifted hands. It’s a glorious device. Are they hands of praise or surprise? Certainly both at the same time.

This simple scene of a surprise family visitation and domesticity is the first scene of Jesus being worshiped. Reflect on this a moment. The event we are witnessing right here in this kitchen is the initiation of what the rest of history and eternity will be about, the worship of the second person of the divine Trinity: Jesus, the Father’s beloved Son.

The interchange between these two women in this domestic setting is unspeakably profound. We typically move over it far too easily, wanting to get onto what we see as the center of the Christmas story, the manger.

This exchange is also vitally important because it is the first revelation of Christ beyond Mary’s heart and womb. It is the precise second and scene that commenced the worship of the Son of the God that will continue without end into eternity, the story that encapsulates a Christian’s whole reality.

P.S. Tanner Lived in Philadelphia

I knew Tanner lived in Philadelphia for some time, so on a business trip there some years ago, I wanted to see if his house was discoverable. It was, and I found it, right around the corner from John Coltrane’s home. How cool is that?

Henry O. Tanner house

Glenn T. Stanton is a Federalist senior contributor who writes and speaks about family, gender, and art, is the director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family, and is the author of the brand new “The Myth of the Dying Church” (Worthy, 2019). He blogs at glenntstanton.com.

https://thefederalist.com/2019/12/23/behold-two-paintings-that-show-a-miraculous-christmas-meeting/

Born to Holiness

John MacArthur Sep 7, 1986

I want to welcome you to our continued study of the epistle of James.  So you can take your bible and open up to James.  We have much ahead of us in this great epistle, but we are going to stop tonight for just a brief look at verse 18.  Normally, we would be taking another section starting in verse 19, since we did mention verse 18 in our last study.  But I want to stop for a moment and expand our understanding of James 1:18, because it is such a great, great verse.  This is a verse that really articulates in a very simple way the meaning of the new birth, the meaning of salvation.

I was interested this morning in the reception for our first time guests to meet a lovely young lady from Japan who understands some English, conversational English and confessed this morning that she found it very difficult to follow what I was saying in the message.  And it alerted me not so much to the fact that the words that I say are not intelligible as such, but the fact that the longer you are a Christian and the more you get involved in Christianity and in the word of God, the more sort of evangelical lingo you probably develop and somebody coming in who knows conversational English is going to have a very hard time plugging into what you are saying.  It’s a good reminder also, that every once in a while, we need to go back to the simple reality of what the gospel really is and that’s what we want to do tonight.  Let’s look together at verse 18 of James chapter 1. 

It says this, of his own will, speaking of the father, God the father mentioned in verse 17, “Of his own will begot he us, with the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.  A simple verse, but on in which is bound up all the richness of the new birth.  The Old Testament said, be holy for I the Lord am holy.  Peter says in his epistle, be holy, for I the Lord am holy.  In order to enter into the presence of God, man must be holy.  Set apart from sin unto righteousness.  Now men are not holy.  That’s obvious.  They are not righteous, that is, they are sinful.  They do not think right, speak right, act right, do right.  They to not rightly perceive God.  They do not rightly perceive themselves.  They do not rightly perceive God’s truth, God’s revelation or God’s law or God’s will.

But even though men are not holy and they are not right with God, for the most part they do not perceive that they are not holy.  They do not understand that they are not righteous, they do not willingly agree with the diagnosis of scripture that they are sinful.  Men are not holy, and worse, they do not recognize either the need for holiness or in many cases, the absence of it.  And if they do recognize that they are not holy, they usually blame someone else for that reality. 

And that’s what we were discussing in our last look at this tremendous chapter.  In directly, men push the responsibility for their sinfulness off on God, typically.  And as we looked at verses 13 through 18, we saw that we have no one to blame but ourselves for our own sinfulness.  Certainly, we cannot blame God by saying, well, God created us.  God made laws that are impossible to keep.  God has allowed me to become the way I am by my environment.  God put me into circumstances that put such constraints on me I can’t control my behavior, et cetera, et cetera.  But what James says to us is, God cannot have any part in our sinfulness either directly or indirectly.

So men have to be holy in order to have a relationship with God.  They are not holy.  For the most part, they don’t even recognize that they are not holy and if they do recognize that they sin, they will usually blame someone else’s and that someone in a very vague sense is the God who put them in the circumstances they are in and gave them the impulses he gave them and they want to shirk the responsibility.  So James says in verse 13 to 18, you cannot blame anyone but yourself for your sin.  In verse 13 he says, the nature of evil demonstrates that.  No man can say, when he is tempted, I am tempted by God, for God can’t be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man.  You can’t blame God for evil because God and evil are mutually exclusive.  And then in verse 14, the nature of man.  He says, man has his own problem.  Man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed.  The problem is in man, it is in his sinfulness, his fallenness.  Then he talks about the nature of lust in verses 15 and 16. 

Lust when it conceives brings forth sin, sin when it finally comes forth produces nothing but death, and don’t you be wrong about that.  In other words, understand that that is the reality of sin, so it isn’t God, because God and evil are incompatible.  The problem is in the nature of man and in the nature of man the problem is his evil desire, his lust, his passion for that which is wrong.  Then in verse 17, he goes back to discussing the nature of God and says, from God comes every good gift and every perfect gift and that never varies and there is never any shadow cast on that, so you can’t blame God because his nature is to give only good things.  Only good comes from God.  So, he says, we can’t blame God for our sin because of the nature of evil, the nature of man, the nature of lust and the nature of God  Then in verse 18 he sort of sums up his argument by saying, the nature of regeneration itself or conversion or salvation or the new birth shows us that God does not lead us into sin.  Verse 18 says, of his own will in other words, it was his will to beget us to become like him.  A kind of first fruits of his own creation.  So the purpose of regeneration was to give birth into life.  To create us to do good not evil.  To give us power over sin as a part of a new creation. 

So God is in no way involved in our sinfulness.  He cannot be mixed with evil.  The problem is in man.  In man, the problem is bound up with his lust.  The nature of God is such that he only gives good gifts and when God touches your life, it is to produce life, not death, to produce righteousness not sin.  To make a new creation, not exercise the old one. 

So all of those things we looked at last time, point to the fact that God cannot directly or indirectly be the source of sin.  God is not and cannot be tempting men to sin.  And so we looked at verse 18 in that light.  But the verse is so rich because it discusses this matter of the new birth of begetting a person, of regenerating a person and it demands a closer and longer look and we want to do that tonight.  He introduces us to the subject of regeneration in verse 18 in connection with a point in his context.  And the point is what I have just said to you, he is using regeneration as a way to show you that God doesn’t lead people into sin, he leads them to be creations of a new kind, like him.  He leads them out of sin into new life.  And that would be inconsistent with any thought that he would lead us into sin.  He is recreating us away from sin, not into sin, but apart from the context itself, as we look at the verse, I want you to just examine it in and of itself, because it says so much about regeneration, and the whole teaching of regeneration and new birth is worthy of our careful attention.  Now keep in mind what I said earlier and what we noted in the text that man is filled with lust and lust produces sin and sin begets death.  It is true that without holiness no one will ever have a relationship with God, no one will ever fully know God.  No one will ever enter into God’s eternal presence without holiness.  And yet man is unholy and he is sinful and everything in his nature produces lust and evil.  To give you a clearer understanding of that, look at Romans with me, chapter 3.

A very familiar portion of scripture to bible students but one that needs examination, in the light of this particular point.  At the end of verse 9 he says, Jews and Greeks, they are all under sin.  They are literally under the mastery of sin.  They are all subject to the control of sin.  And then he goes on to show this in extent by quoting from some Old Testament passages and he says, “As it is written, There is none righteous no not one.”  There is not one human being created in this world since the fall of Adam that is righteous and that means that is right with God, that does righteously, that obeys the will of God in and of himself.

There is none righteous, no not one.  There is none that understands.  That is, there is none that fully comprehends that which God requires and is fully able to understand it and carry it out.  There is none that even seeks after God.  The bent of man is to seek sin.  Men love what?  Darkness, John 3 says, rather than light because their deeds are evil.  They are all gone out of the way.  They have all diverted themselves from the path that God ordained for righteousness.  They are altogether become unprofitable.  The Greek word has to do with sour milk.  It is good for nothing.  They are absolutely useless.  And there is none that does good, not even one.  And then he describes the nature of their evil.  Their throat is an open sepulcher.  It stinks like a dead corpse whose scent comes oozing out of a tomb.  With their tongues, they have used deceit.  The poison of asps or snakes is under their lips.  A man is basically revealed in his conversation and in his mouth, and the ugly, evil, defiled, deadness of his sinful nature comes out through his mouth.  The mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.  Their feet are in a hurry to shed blood.  Destruction and misery are in their ways.  The way of peace have they not known and there is absolutely no reverence of God before their eyes.  Here is a definition of sinful man, man without God.  And the whole world comes under this in verse 18.  Every mouth is stopped and all the world stands guilty before God.  And there is no way he says, in verse 20, that through their flesh, they can be justified by God, by keeping some rules by obeying law, even though it be the law of God.  The law simply produces the knowledge of sin, it doesn’t produce righteousness.  So there is the definition of man from Romans 3.  Man in his sinful state, look at Ephesians 2.

In Ephesians 2 it says, verse 1, “And you who were dead in trespasses and sins.”  And here we find that man is characterized again as  being dead, the stench of a corpse and the characteristic of his deadness is a deadness in trespasses and sins.  Just using two words to show kind of the breadth and the extent of his sinfulness.  He walks, it says, according to the course of this world.  In other words, he daily conduct is dictated by the evil system.  The one who is in charge of his life is the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that works in the children of disobedience, those are titles for Satan.  He functions, verse 3, in the lust of the flesh.  He fulfills the desire of the flesh and the mind and he is by nature a child of wrath.  That means, he is a target of judgment, he is the object of God’s judgment. 

Now all this is very basic, man in order to have a right relationship to God, needs to be holy.  Man is not holy.  Man doesn’t recognize that he is not holy and sometimes if he does recognize that he is not holy and sinful he tends to blame God for his circumstances, pass off the responsibility which keeps him confined under the subjection of sin and therefore cut off from God.  Now the question comes up, what are you going to do to help this man?  What are you going to do to change the situation?  What does this man need?  External changes are not enough.  He cannot by some resolution in his own mind determine that he is going to obey the law of God and work his way out of this deadness.  He cannot give himself new life. 

What he needs is to be recreated.  He needs is a new heart, a new inner person, a new life principle.  He needs to be born again.  He needs to start all over and come out different.  As if in the words of Nicodemus, he could crawl back into his mother’s womb and start all over again with a different nature.  Since holiness is the absolute condition for acceptance into fellowship with God, sinful man in his fallen dead condition can’t ever have that fellowship and God won’t accept his corrupt self, so he needs a new life.  He needs a brand new life.  So when we talk about the gospel or the new birth, we are not talking about adding something.  We are not talking about tacking something on.  We are not talking about putting a ribbon on a sow.  We are not talking about putting a new suit of clothes on an old man.  We are talking about a total transformation.  To enter into a right relationship with God, demands a total new person.  You have to go back and start all over again and be born all over again into a new life.

Now scripture affirms this.  It isn’t even new, in the New Testament, this was part of the promise in anticipation of the Old Testament.  Jerimiah for example, says the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked and Jeremiah says, can the Ethiopian change his skin?  Can he by willingly and by being willing rather and wishing can he change the color of his dark skin?  And then Jeremiah says, can the leopard change his spots?  And the answer is of course not, then, may you also do good that are accustomed to do evil.

You can’t change your life either, so you need a transformation.  That’s Jeremiah 13:23 and over in chapter 31, comes the wonderful promise of that transformation, Jeremiah 31:31, “Behold the days come, says the Lord, I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the hand of Egypt, and so forth.”  He says, “I’ll make a new covenant,” verse 33, “I will put my law in their inward parts.  I will write it in their hearts.  I will be their God and they will be my people.  I am going to get inside and change their inside.”  They can’t do it on their own so it has to be done for them.  Man has to have a change at the very core of his being. 

The natural man, that is the unregenerate man, the man that doesn’t know God.  The sinful man, the unredeemed man, the unsaved man, does not, 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “Receive the things of the spirit of God.”  He can’t receive them.  He’s dead.  And a corpse doesn’t respond to anything.  And so what does he need?  He needs new birth.  He needs new life.  I just read you Ephesians 2:1 to 3, how that men are dead in trespasses and sin following the lust of the flesh, the lust of the mind, the desires of the flesh, being subject to the leadership of Satan, the prince of the power of the air, they are children of wrath, but it says, even when we were dead in sins in the same chapter verse 5, Christ has made us alive and raised us up.  And here is the idea of a resurrection from the dead, of new life, of a new birth.  In Romans 6, it says, when you put your faith in Christ, you die and you rise to walk in and it uses this wonderful phrase, newness of what?  Of life.  Now that’s what every person has to have, newness of life.  The old life has to be totally done away and a new life has to come.  In Ephesians 4:24, you have put on the new man, which, listen to this, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.  When you come to salvation, you put on a new man, a new person, not new clothes.  A new person. 

It’s a recreation.  The best and most graphic illustration of this is found in the wonderful encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus so turn to John 3 and let’s look at it briefly and remind ourselves of this wonderful, wonderful story.  There was a man of the Pharisees, that was, he was a religious leader of great esteem.  He may have well been as prominent as any teacher because in verse 10 Jesus says, are you and uses the definite article, the teacher of Israel and don’t know these things.

So here is one man who is recognized perhaps publicly as the teacher in Israel of some great stature, a Pharisee well versed in the law.  He approaches Jesus and says we know you are  a teacher from God.  Here is a man of great esteem.  Here is a man who recognizes his own calling, but recognizes one who is even significantly above himself in understanding, so he comes to Jesus and he says in verse 2, we know you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do the miracles that you do except God be with him.  And he never says what’s in his heart.  He doesn’t ask a question, but Jesus reads his heart.  And Jesus answered, that’s an interesting statement because he didn’t ask anything.  He just said, you are a teacher, and went on to say, you come from God, we know that, but Jesus answered the question in his heart and said, Truly, truly I say to you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God and he knew that what was in the heart of Nicodemus was how do I get into the kingdom.

Here was a man who was the teacher in Israel.  A Pharisee, had it all going religiously, but knew he had not entered into truly to the kingdom of God.  How did he know he hadn’t?  Because there was nothing inside of him confirming that.  So he comes to Jesus and the question of his heart is, what do I do to get into the kingdom and the implication would be, I’m very religious, I study the law, I try to live by the code of the Old Testament.  I’m an ethical man.  I’m a trusted man.  I’m a respected man.  What do I need to add to my life to get into the kingdom and Jesus said, you don’t add anything, you start all over again.

You just kill the whole thing and start with birth.  You have to be born again.  And Nicodemus said to him, how can a man be born when he’s old.  Now he’s not asking the physical thing.  Give him a break.  He’s not saying, physically, how can I go back and be born?  He knows what Jesus is talking about.  He is simply picking up on the same use of veiled language, of parabolic talk of the meshal, the kind of speech that they use.  And he’s picking up on the same metaphor, the same descriptive terms that Jesus is using and he’s saying how does someone so many years in one religion, so many years following one code, so many years to be now a Pharisee and a rabbi and a teacher of the law, ever go back and undo all of that and start all over again.

That’s what he’s saying.  And if you have ever witnessed to an orthodox Jew, of any years, you will understand this mindset.  How can I ever unravel all this lifelong pursuit of religion and start all over again, that’s what was in the mind of Nicodemus.  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born and he’s tongue in cheek at that point.  He’s saying that again, consistent with the analogy that Jesus was using.  How can I be born again spiritually?  He knows Jesus speaks spiritually.  How can I do it?  How can it happen?  And Jesus says to him, basically, you can’t do it. 

You can’t do it Nicodemus, truly, truly, I say to you, except a man be born of water and the spirit, he cannot what?  Enter the kingdom of God.  He says, you can’t do it.  It has to be done by water and the spirit.  It has to be done by a power and a resource outside yourself, outside of you.  And that power is the water and the spirit.  Now what does that refer too?  That’s the water of salvation, I believe if you go back for a brief moment to Ezekiel 36, you will see Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus in very familiar terms, he knew the Old Testament.  He knew the promise of Ezekiel 36 verse 25, I will sprinkle clean water upon you.

Who is I?  God.  This is a sovereign act.  And you will be clean from your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleans you, what he is saying to Nicodemus is this, number one, you must have a sovereign cleansing by God.  Secondly, it comes through the Holy Spirit.  You need a sovereign salvation that comes from outside yourself.  Just like Ezekiel prophesied, clean water, cleansing your filthiness.  Paul writing to Titus talks about the washing of water through the word.  The water of regeneration, verse 26, a new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you, take away the stony heart out of your flesh, I will give you a heart of flesh, then this, I will put my spirit within you and cause you from the inside to walk in my statues.  You shall keep my ordinances and you shall do them. 

So when Jesus says to Nicodemus you must be born of the water and the spirit to enter the kingdom, he’s taking Nicodemus right back to Ezekiel 36 and saying, you know what the prophet said, you need a sovereign cleansing that comes from God outside yourself and the planting of his holy spirit in your heart to give you a new life and a new heart and a new motivation.  Why?  Verse 6, if you try to do it on your own, that which is born of the flesh is what?  All you are going to do is reproduce what?  Yourself.  More of you.  But that which is born of the spirit is what?  Spirit.  So don’t be surprised that I said you must be born again.  Don’t be surprised.  Then he says, the wind blows where it wants and you hear the sound and you can’t tell from where it comes and where it goes and so is everyone that is born of the spirit.  You know what he’s saying there?  He’s saying, I can’t tell you how or when the Holy Spirit does this, but this is a sovereign act of the Holy Spirit.  It can’t be charted.  You can’t even see it coming or going, but the spirit of God moves in where he wills and gives new birth to whom he wills as sovereign God by the agency of the spirit, through the washing of the water of the word in regeneration, cleanses the heart and plants that spirit within a man.  What you need Nicodemus is a new life and that is a sovereign act of God.  Just what Jerimiah 24 said in verse 7 where God said, I will give them a heart to know me.

A new nature, a new heart, a new life.  If any man be in Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:17, he is a new creature, old things have passed away, behold all things have become new.  So what I’m saying here is a new birth is essential.  That’s what salvation is.  It is God sovereignly coming down to a sinner and by his grace cleansing that sinner and planting his spirit in that sinner so that the cleansing of that sinner takes care of his relationship to God and the planting of the spirit takes care of his power to live in the will of God.  And that’s the purpose or regeneration. 

Now I want to ask four questions in our verse, James 1:18, let’s go back.  That was introduction.  James 1:18, I want to ask you four questions about regeneration.  Very simple questions and it won’t take us but a brief time to answer the four.  First question, what is it?  You’ve just said that man cannot know God without holiness.  Man is not holy.  Man doesn’t recognize his unholiness and when he does, he tends to blame God.  How is he ever going to get out of the dilemma.  Here is he blaming God for it, or not recognizing it.  How is he every going to change.  Well, you say somebody brings him so higher standards, some better ethics, a law that he is supposed to keep and he does it on his own.  No, that which the flesh produces is more what?  More flesh, so what has to happen is, he needs the divine intervention of a sovereign God,  who by his spirit comes in, washes away his sin, plants a new life in him.  Gives him his spirit to energize that new life unto obedience, that is a sovereign act.  That’s really regeneration.  But let’s get into this verse and look at the four questions, question number one.  What is is? What is the nature of regeneration?  And I have already alluded  to it, in fact already covered a great portion, but just this phrase, of his own will be begat us.  That’s the nature of regeneration.

It is God brining us forth, giving birth to us as new beings.  You are not the same.  You are a whole new creating.  Its’ the same verb, by the way, exactly the same one used back in verse 15.  God, when he conceives brings forth regeneration.  Brings forth new life, it’s the very same verb.  It’s in Eros tense so it looks back to the event of salvation when we were born by the divine parent and given new life as children of God.  Now if you want a technical definition for he begat us, here is one that I think is excellent.  It’s given by the theologian Berkhoff many years ago, but really says it.  Regeneration is, that act of God by which the principle of new life is implanted in man and the governing disposition of his soul is made holy.  That is a great definition.  Regeneration is that act of God by which the principle of new life is implanted in man and the governing disposition of his soul is made holy.  That is a total transformation.  That doesn’t sound anything like Romans 3, does it or anything like Ephesians 2:1 to 3.  In fact, Peter says, we become partakers of the divine nature.  God gives us his own life, his own self, his own righteous character, his own holiness is implanted in us, just a tremendous thought.  As a Christian, you and possess the very nature of God, 2 Peter 1:4.  We are partakers of this divine nature.  Now, in its fullness, we are yet to receive all that that implies, but already that new life principle is planted in us.  This is completed in a moment of time.  It is not a process.  It is an event.  It is an act by which God creates you new.  It is a secret work.  It cannot be perceived.  That’s why we can’t, in the words of Jesus, tell the wheat from the tares, because this particular act is imperceptible.  It is known only through its effect.  We can’t see God recreate someone.  That is a divine miracle unseen by any human eye.

But it plants in the person a new life principle and a new disposition that is enabled and driven to keep the law of God. Marvelous.  It overcomes the deadness of sin.  And the deadliness of sin.  No longer are we subject to sin, Paul says in Romans chapter 6, sin no longer has dominion over us.  We now follow a new master willingly and eagerly.

Jesus said in John 10, I am come that they might have what?  Life.  What do dead men need most?  Life.  And so, he comes to give us new life.  So what is regeneration?  What is it?  He begot us.  What does that mean?  He gave us new life.  Total transformation of the inner person.  Second question, who does it?  Well, I have already told you that from John chapter 3, who does it?  Look back at verse 18 again, of his own will, he begot us.  He being God the father mentioned in verse 17 as the source of every good and every perfect gift, of his own will is first in the Greek in the verse, which put is it in the emphatic position showing that the sovereign will of God is the root of this new life.  It couldn’t be any other way, because how is a dead person going to give himself life?  Impossible.  The source of new life is God.  God.  It is the grace of the giver, not the desire of the receiver.  That desire of the receiver is prompted by the grace of the giver.  So it is wholly the choice and the work of almighty God.

If I am saved, and you are saved, who gets all the credit?  God does.  We praise him.  Go back to John 1:12 and I want to just draw a little more on this thought.  You say, but wait a minute, didn’t I receive Christ, didn’t I believe, of course, you did.  You reached out and received him and believed.  Look at verse 12 of John 1, “As many as received him to them gave he the right or the authority to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name.”  You say that’s right.  I believed and I received.  Didn’t I do that?  Didn’t I initiate that?  Look at verse 13, who were born, not of the blood, not talking about a human birth, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man,” but of what?  “God.”  You believed and you received because it was the will of whom?  Of God.  It is a sovereign thing.  Yes, you believed.  Yes, you received.  Behind it, all was the sovereign, determinative, gracious will of God. 

No, child has ever been born into the world humanly speaking because he or she wanted to be born.  Fair enough?  The birth of a child is strictly the decision of parents, not of unborn children.  Spiritual birth is analogous to that.  It is the decision of the sovereign divine parent.  No man comes unto me Jesus said, except the father what?  Draws him.  Except the father draws him and even the very faith we exercise, is granted graciously by God.  So our conscious experience of conversion, our conscious experience of committing our life to Jesus Christ of believing in his death and resurrection, of opening our hearts to receive him, of believing the gospel, all is a consequence of his sovereign will.

Beloved when you stop to think that you are saved because he predetermined in eternity past to save you, that is a marvelous thing.  God in his grace and love predetermined to have an eternally intimate love relationship with you just because that’s what he wanted, marvelous.  John put it this way, we love him because he first loved us.  A child gives love to a human parent as a response to parental love and care and the life they gave that child.  And because God has willed to save us, because God has willed to give us new life and a holy nature, it is absolutely impossible, James says that he could ever lead us into sin.  You see how absolutely incongruous that is?  What a thrilling thought.  He predestinated us to set his love on us.

To give us new life that we might have eternal fellowship with him and he longs for us to be in his presence and when we go into his presence he will make us like his own son and he will pour out eternal blessing on us forever and ever and ever.  No wonder John says in 1 John 3, “Behold what manner of love the father hath bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God.”  He can’t even think of an adjective.  It’s absolutely indescribable.  He just says, what manner of love, he couldn’t even come up with an adjective to describe that kind of predetermined sovereign free choice to love. 

Now looking back at James 1:18, just one other thought about that particular point, when it says of his own will, it uses the word boultheis, aorist participle.  It is not just a wish, but it is an active will of accomplishment.  It isn’t God just wishing it.  He wishes us to be saved, it is he wills it to the extent that it actually happens.  May I say something to you that’s very profound theologically?  This is what we would say is God’s productive will.  That is when he wills this, it happens.  It is not a wish.  You can wish something, oh, I wish, oh, how I wish this will happen and it may be remotely unrelated to what will happen.  Or you can say, I will that to happen because it’s within your power to make it happen.  That’s the intent of the word here, God’s desire produces the end of that desire.  So what is regeneration?  It is God recreating us.  Who does it?  God does it by his sovereign power and we respond to that sovereign grace.  Third question, okay, we have asked what and who here is the third on, how does it happen?  How does it happen?

You say, well, does God just reach down and bang you are saved, does God just zap you?  How does it happen?  Well, let’s look back at the verse, verse 18, “Of his own will he begot us,” here it comes, “With the word of truth.  With the word of truth.”  Or literally, by truth’s word.  By truth’s word.  That means the word of God, the scripture.  You see, God regenerates us and washes us and cleanses us and gives us a new inner person and plants a spirit in us through the power of his what?  Of his word.  Of his word.  Men are born again by the power of the word.  If you don’t hear the word, you don’t hear the message that saves, in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul is commending the Thessalonians for how they responded to the preaching of God’s word.  He says, “For this cause we thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth the word of God,” listen to this, “which effectually is working also in you that believe.  It is the word that works with a believing heart.  God Sovereignly moves to redeem.  A person responds to the exposure to the word with faith and salvation takes place.  God’s will then of salvation is brought to the heart of a person through an understanding of the word mixed with faith and regeneration takes place.  How does it happen?  It happens through the word of God.  And again, I remind you of Titus 3:5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done.”  We don’t get salvation and new life by doing things, by trying to obey God in the flesh, but according to his mercy, he saved us, watch this, “by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.”  There are the same two things, the washing of the water of the word and the planting of the Holy Spirit.  That’s the sovereign work of God.  SO, the word of truth is the issue.

Now let me just take that phrase a little bit further, the word of truth or truth’s word.  That particular designation is used several times in the New Testament.  In 2 Corinthians 6:7, you don’t need to look these up, I’ll just mention them to you.  It says, by the word of truth, by the power of God and it goes on.  In Colossians 1:5, it says, “Of which you heard before,” listen to this, “in the word of the truth of the gospel.  The word of the truth of the gospel.”  And there the word of the truth is specifically linked to the gospel.  By the way, 2 Timothy 2:15 also mentions the word of truth, rightly dividing the word of truth.  So the word of truth in general is the word of God.

It is that which God brings to us to unfold an understanding to us of his revelation of himself.  In specific, on the basis of Colossians 1:5 we could call it the word of the truth of the gospel.  Now with that in mind, we go back to James and we can just simply say that we wouldn’t be out of line to say, that we are born again with the word of truth, not only God’s general revelation, but as in Colossians 1:5, his specific revelation of the gospel.  And you say what’s the gospel?  The good news that Jesus came, died and rose again, so people are saved then when God sovereignly sets out to give them new birth, to give them a new nature to wash away their sin, to plant his spirit in them.  He brings them an understanding of that through the knowledge that comes in the gospel that is preached or that is given to them.  That mixed with faith results in the new birth.  In Romans 10:17, and I’m just picking up some scriptures that come to mind that I think are related to this as we kind of wind down.  But in Romans 10:17, do you remember this, how then shall they call on him whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in him in whom they have not heard?  How shall they hear without a preacher?  And then it says, and how shall they preach unless they be sent and so forth and so on.  It’s talking about we have to have preachers.  How are people going to hear if they don’t have a preacher?  How can we send anybody if there is no one to send?  People have to have a preacher, how beautiful, quoting from Isaiah, are the feet of them that preach the gospel.  How important it is to preach it, why?  Because of verse 17, faith comes by hearing, a speech about Christ.  That’s the proper Greek rending of 10:17, faith comes by hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ, Romans 10:17.  So, God sovereignly saves by moving into a life and recreating that life, but that takes place when a person comes to hear and understand the gospel and it is mixed with faith and that brings about the new birth.  What is it?  It is total transformation.  Who does it?  God does it by his own sovereign will.  How does it happen?  By hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ that he died on the cross and rose again, that comes through the reveled word of God.  One other scripture on this regard is 1 Peter 1.  Being born again, it says, and here is the definition of the means.  Being born again, not of corruptible seed, he’s not talking about human birth, but of incorruptible, here it comes, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever. 

By the word of God which lives and abides forever.  For flesh, you can’t have a new birth in the flesh, it’s just like the grass and the glory of man is like the flower of grass, the grass withers and the flower falls away.  The flesh can’t produce anything lasting, but the word of the Lord endures forever.  Now listen, and this is the word, which by the gospel is preached unto you.  And again he says, you are born again by the word and the word that you are born again by is the gospel and the gospel is the story of Jesus death and resurrection.

So God sovereignly chooses to redeem, comes down, cleanses the heart, plants his spirit, but in order to do that, the heart must be comprehend the gospel as clearly preached and that comprehension mixed with faith brings about new life, new life.  Now, if anything is to change in us, God must do it, but we must respond as well, to the gospel.  Now that leaves us with one question, one question.  Why is it done?  Why?  Why does God bother.  We know what, we know who, we know how, but why?  What is the purpose of making us new?  The end of verse 18, this is marvelous.  In order that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creation.  Boy, what a statement.  We could really go to town on this one.  The ramifications of this are just tremendous, that we should be, that’s an ace with the verb to be, that’s a purpose cause, with the purpose of producing a new kind of creation, that’s what God wants.  He wants a new kind of creation and we are the first fruits of that.

That’s great.  What are first fruits?  Well, if we had time and we won’t take the time, we could study the Old Testament, mark down Exodus 23:19, Leviticus 23, Deuteronomy chapter 18, Deuteronomy chapter 26, that tells about first fruits.  When you planted a crop, God said, I want your first fruits.  First fruits meant two things, I want the first in order and I want the best. 

When you harvest that crop, bring an offering to me and I want the first that you harvest and that will show that you live by faith, because if you take your first, the tendency for a farmer is to take the first thing that he harvest and he hordes it incase nothing else comes through.  So you bring me the first and you bring me the best, that’s the first fruits.  The first of a full crop that’s coming later and that’s exactly what it means here. 

He says, I want you to, this is thrilling, to be the first and the best indicative of a whole crop that’s coming later.  That’s marvelous.  Now listen to me carefully, do you realize people that the world will not continue the way it is right now?  Do you know that?  Do you know that we are headed to a total transformation of the world as we know it?  Do you know that this entire operation on the earth will burn up and the bible tells us that the Lord will recreate this earth, to his own liking?  He will make a new creation, everything will be born again, everything.  Men and women and dirt and hills and valleys and water and grass and plants and animals and everything, in fact, he will make a new heaven and a new earth, there is coming a whole new creation and we are just the first evidence of it. 

As Paul says in Romans 8, the world doesn’t even know what we are going to be yet, because we are still veiled in our flesh and waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God when it becomes clear to everybody what we really are. That’s kind of exciting to know what I am in that regard.  I’m a sample as a Christian and so are you, of what’s coming.  We’re just the first look at the new creation.  Incredible.  We are his.  And he recreates us as symbols, as examples, as illustrations, of his coming new creation.  You want to know what the future is going to be like.  I’ll tell you what it’s going to be like.  It’s going to be like us all new on the inside.  It’s going to be like us after we get all new on the outside too, but we are just the first fruits.  What is that?  The first fruits is the promise of the full crop.  The promise of the full crop.  And we are the first fruits.  What a thought.  God says, I want to take you to be my special possession.  I want to take you to belong to me.  To be symbols of the full new creation yet to come. 

Do you realize that here we are in little Grace Community Church in this little pocket of bricks here tonight and the world has no idea what we are, but we are just first fruits of an incredible new creation when God recreates the whole heaven and the whole earth?  We are just the first fruits.  Creation, it says in Romans 8 is groaning waiting for its recreation.  And we also are crying out for the recreation, not of our soul, we have had that, but of our what?  Of our bodies where the flesh hangs on.

This new life we have in Christ is a taste of future glory when the whole universe will be recreated.  So, what a marvelous privilege is ours.  What is regeneration?  It’s recreation.  Making us all new from the inside.  Who does it?  God does it sovereignly.  When does it happen or how does it happen?  It happens when we hear with believing hearts the word of the gospel and then God mixes his faith with his sovereign power, transforms us and why does he do it?  Because we are to stand out in the world as living examples of where this world is headed when he recreates is.

Now to put this thing back in James context, try to tell me now that God wants us to sin and I’ll tell you you got a screw loss.  There is no way that God wants you to sin.  No way he is pleased with your sin.  He created you to be a model of a sinless society.  That’s what he wants.  So when you sin, don’t blame him.  Put the blame where it out to be on your flesh and long for the day when your flesh is redeemed. 

That’s what it means to be born again and we have much to praise God for.  Let’s bow in prayer.  Our father, we titled our message tonight, Born to Holiness.  And we indeed are committed to that.  That we have been made new in order that we who were unholy might be holy. What a tremendous truth that is.  Father we thank you so much for making us the symbols of your new creation.  And father, we pray that we might shine as lights in the world.

That we might, who have been redeemed be so grateful that we might live in such a way as to properly represent that whole new creation of which we are but the first fruits.  Forgive us for those times when we have blamed you for our sin and help us to realize that it is your desire to recreate us unto holiness.

And help us to pursue that with all our might and the power of the spirit.  And father, if there are some in our fellowship tonight who have never come to Christ who have never been born again, who have not yet received the life principle.  Who have not been changed on the inside.  Who have not been washed from all their sin.  Who have not received a new spirit and a new inner person.  A new life principle.  Who have not received the Holy Spirit to live in them.  Who are not your special beloved and intimate possession, your first fruits and a promise of a whole new universe.  Oh Lord, may this be the night when they embrace Jesus Christ.  May they believe in the one who died on the cross for them, shed his blood to pay the penalty for their sin.  Rose again the third day for their salvation.

May they put their faith in the living Jesus Christ and may they experience that glorious sovereign mercy and grace and the joy of being first fruits, living examples of the coming recreation.  Oh God, help us who know you to live up to who we are.  And rightly represent to this world what is coming in the future.  We pray in Christ’s name, amen.

https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/59-8/born-to-holiness

The Meaning of Passover

Laura Bagby

The Jews celebrated their Passover Feast in remembrance of God’s deliverance from death during the time of Moses.

Origination of Passover

Moses had been instructed to lead God’s people out of Egypt and save them from the evil and ungodly Pharaoh. Because of Pharaoh’s disbelief in the power of the One True God, Yahweh sent a series of ten plagues upon the Egyptians: the Nile turned to blood and at various times the land was filled with frogs, gnats, flies, hail, locusts, and darkness. In one awesome act of God’s ultimate authority, He sent one final devastating plague: every firstborn of every household would be annihilated.

In His mercy towards His people, God would shield the Israelites from such unmerciful judgment if they would follow the instructions He gave to Moses and Aaron. The specific instructions are outlined in Exodus 12:1-11. In sum, each family was to take a lamb and all households were to slaughter their lambs at the same time at twilight after a certain number of days. Then they were commanded to paint the sides and top of their doorways with some of this blood. Once this was done and all the meat of the lamb was eaten in accordance with God’s instructions, God would spare the Israelites from death. This is what the Lord said:

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord — a lasting ordinance” (Exodus 12:12-14)

The Seder Meal

The highlight of a contemporary Jewish Pesach, or Passover, is the Seder.

The Seder meal consists of six highly symbolic elements: matzah, a roasted shank bone, parsley or green herbs, the top of a horseradish, charoset, and an egg. On each plate are three pieces of matzah (a special type of cracker or unleavened bread). Two of these pieces represent the traditional loaves used in the ancient Temple during festivals and the third piece symbolizes Passover. The roasted lamb bone connotes the sacrificial Passover lamb. Herbs symbolize springtime growth. The horseradish represents the bitter years of slavery in Egypt; charoset, a mixture of fruit and ground nuts soaked in wine, represents the mortar used in Egypt; and the egg represents the chagigah (a secondary sacrifice prepared along with the Passover lamb).

The Biblical Accounts

Accounts of what happened can be found in all four gospels — Matthew 26:17-27:10; Mark 14:12-72Luke 22:1-65John 13:1-18:27.

Can God change your life?

God has made it possible for you to know Him and experience an amazing change in your own life. Discover how you can find peace with God. You can also send us your prayer requests.

https://www1.cbn.com/teaching/the-meaning-of-passover

‘Do not contrive evil’: 2,000-year-old biblical Scriptures unearthed in Israel

First discovery of its kind since Dead Sea Scrolls

March 16, 2021 Joe Kovacs

Sections of the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets scroll discovered in the Judean Desert. (Photo courtesy Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)

In what’s being hailed as the first such discovery in 60 years, a new set of Dead Sea Scrolls matching the Old Testament has been unearthed in the Judean desert of Israel.

The Israel Antiquities Authority on Tuesday announced its four-year archaeological project located fragments of ancient Scriptures from the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets, including the books of Zechariah and Nahum.

One fragment, written in Greek with God’s name appearing in paleo-Hebrew, quotes Zechariah 8:16-17: “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate – declares the LORD.”

An archaeologist deals with difficult conditions locating the latest Dead Sea Scrolls. (Photo by Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Another features Nahum 1:5–6, which indicates: “The mountains quake because of Him, And the hills melt. The earth heaves before Him, The world and all that dwell therein. Who can stand before His wrath? Who can resist His fury? His anger pours out like fire, and rocks are shattered because of Him.”

The ancient treasures were located in what’s known as the “Cave of Horror,” which was discovered four years ago. Researchers actually had to rappel down a dangerous cliff to reach the opening of the cave, some 262 feet below the top, with gorges on each side. Archaeologists also used drones to survey portions of caves that were difficult to reach,adding about half of the area remainsunexplored.

A researcher rappelling to the ‘Cave of Horror.’ (Photo by Eitan Klein, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The authority stressed that accessing the cave is forbidden on safety grounds, and the treasures were part of an Israeli project to prevent thieves from stealing Holy Land artifacts, a constant threat since the first Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd in the same area. That first set of scrolls is considered among the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century.

Israel Hasson, director of the IAA, noted: “The aim of this national initiative is to rescue these rare and important heritage assets from the robbers’ clutches.”

“The newly discovered scroll fragments are a wake-up call to the state. Resources must be allocated for the completion of this historically important operation. We must ensure that we recover all the data that has not yet been discovered in the caves, before the robbers do. Some things are beyond value.”

Archaeologists Hagay Hamer and Oriah Amichai sift finds at the ‘Cave of Horror’ in the Judean Desert. (Photo by Eitan Klein, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Hananya Hizmi, head staff officer of the Civil Administration’s Archaeology Department in Judea and Samaria, said: “This is definitely an exciting moment, as we present and reveal to the public an important and significant piece in the history and culture of the land of Israel.”

“In as early as the late 1940s, we became aware of the cultural heritage remains of the ancient population of the Land of Israel with the first discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” he added.

“Now, in this national operation, which continues the work of previous projects, new finds and evidence have been discovered and unearthed that shed even more light on the different periods and cultures of the region. The finds attest to a rich, diverse and complex way of life, as well as to the harsh climatic conditions that prevailed in the region hundreds and thousands of years ago.”

Researchers also unearthed a trove of coins from the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt, a 6,000-year-old skeleton of a partially mummified child and a basket they said could be the oldest in the world, as they used a figure of 10,000 years

old.

Is this the oldest basket in the world? (Photo by Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

A CT scan indicated the child was between 6 and 12 years of age, with skin, tendons and hair partially preserved.

“On moving two flat stones, we discovered a shallow pit intentionally dug beneath them, containing a skeleton of a child placed in a fetal position,” IAA prehistorian Ronit Lupu stated.

“It was obvious that whoever buried the child had wrapped him up and pushed the edges of the cloth beneath him, just as a parent covers his child in a blanket,” she said.

“A small bundle of cloth was clutched in the child’s hands. The child’s skeleton and the cloth wrapping were remarkably well preserved, and because of the climatic conditions in the cave, a process of natural mummification had taken place; the skin, tendons, and even the hair were partially preserved, despite the passage of time.”

WATCH THE EXPLORATION:
https://players.brightcove.net/590066524001/17afba39-9902-4343-a46b-498c3530b08e_default/index.html?videoId=6240882353001

Learn astonishing Bible truth on a higher level than ever before with the Holy Spirit-filled books by Joe Kovacs

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VIDEO Chinese Man Arrested for Evangelizing Shares Gospel with Police – Sarah’s Journey for Christ!

By Jessica Mouser -August 14, 2020

street evangelism

A Chinese man was arrested on August 3 for conducting street evangelism and was consequently placed under administrative detention for 10 days. Remarkably, the man continued sharing the gospel by encouraging the officers who took him into custody to believe in Jesus.

“Brother Chen Wensheng received 10-day administrative detention sentence for sharing gospel of Christ on the street at his own hometown in Hunan province including to policemen,” tweeted Bob Fu. Fu is the founder and president of human rights organization ChinaAid, which reported the incident.

 
 

Man Perseveres in Street Evangelism 

The man arrested for “illegal evangelism,” Chen Wensheng, is part of the Xiaoqun Church in Hengyang, a city in Hunan province. According to ChinaAid, he was preaching the gospel in a city street while displaying a cross with the phrases “Glory to our Savior” and “Repent and be saved by faith alone.” When officials arrested Chen, they also confiscated his cross. In its report, ChinaAid shared two videos, one of Chen’s street evangelism booth and one of him sharing the gospel with Chinese officials after being released from a previous arrest.

According to International Christian Concern (ICC), conducting street evangelism and getting arrested for it has become a habit for Chen, so much so that the local authorities know him. Says ICC, “He has repeatedly urged the police officers to believe in Jesus.” In the video of Chen speaking to officials during a previous release, the officers ask if Chen makes money from telling people about Jesus. He replies that the point of believing in Jesus is not to get money, but to receive eternal life. ICC says that members of Chen’s church have visited him and provided for his needs during his most recent detainment.

There is no doubt that Chen Wensheng has shown tenacity and courage, particularly as religious persecution in China has been increasing. Among the many ways the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is oppressing Christians and other people of faith is by threatening to “re-educate” their children and by taking away children who have been adopted. In 2019, one Christian family that was part of Early Rain Covenant Church left China for Taiwan for fear that the CCP would take away their adopted child.

 
 

Not even the state-approved Three-Self Church is protected from the government’s interference. There have been reports of authorities removing crosses and religious imagery from churches throughout the country, whether or not those churches are approved by the government. And it is not only churches that the CCP is targeting with this policy. Authorities are forcibly removing religious imagery from people’s homes and replacing it with images of Chairman Mao Zedong and President Xi Jinping, as part of the government’s efforts toward sinicization. Those who refuse face losing their welfare benefits.

This is not to mention the government’s ongoing surveillance and unjust sentencing of Christians in China, in addition to other human rights abuses such as the CCP’s invasive use of technology and the atrocities the party is committing against the Uighur people. ICC has recently published a comprehensive report on religious persecution in China, which you can access here.

 
 
Jessica Mouser is a writer for churchleaders.com. She has always had a passion for the written word and has been writing professionally for the past two years. She especially enjoys evaluating how various beliefs play out within culture. When Jessica isn’t writing, she enjoys playing the piano, reading, and spending time with her friends and family.
 
 
 

Sarah’s Journey for Christ!


More Than a Quarter of Young Adults in the US Have Contemplated Suicide During the Pandemic, CDC Says

By Bri Lamm -August 18, 2020

contemplated suicide

As the coronavirus death toll continues to rise and fall, and cases top 5 million in the U.S. alone, there’s a growing shift in focus towards mental health and wellness.

According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25.5 percent, or one in four adults, ages 18-24, say they have contemplated suicide in the past month as a result of the pandemic. That’s more than three times the percentage of people in the same age group who reported suicidal ideation in the second quarter of 2019.

The staggering statistics come from a new CDC study, which surveyed 5,470 people between June 24 and June 30.

Of those surveyed, more than 40 percent said they had experienced a mental or behavioral health condition in relation to the pandemic. 31 percent reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, while 26 percent of respondents reported trauma and stress-related disorder because of the pandemic. And 13 percent of those surveyed said they have turned to increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.

And the problem isn’t just among young adults. 22 percent of essential workers said they had contemplated suicide in the last 30 days, along with 31 percent of self-reported “unpaid caregivers” of adults.

According to the report, suicidal ideation was more prevalent among males as well as hispanic and black minorities. Symptoms of COVID-19–related stress, anxiety, or depression, increased substance use, and suicidal ideation were more prevalent among employed than unemployed respondents.

When three pandemics converge.

Federal officials and public health experts have expressed growing concern of a possible mental health crisis at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month the CDC found that more young people are dying of suicide and overdose in 2020 than they are of COVID-19.

“Mental health conditions are disproportionately affecting specific populations, especially young adults, Hispanic persons, black persons, essential workers, unpaid caregivers for adults, and those receiving treatment for preexisting psychiatric conditions,” the most recent report stated.

“Addressing mental health disparities and preparing support systems to mitigate mental health consequences as the pandemic evolves will continue to be needed urgently.”

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is available. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text an emotional support counselor with the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

More Than a Quarter of Young Adults in the US Have Contemplated Suicide During the Pandemic, CDC Says

 

‘Civil Righteousness’ group brings healing balm of Jesus to protest sites

August 10, 2020 By Michael Ashcraft

 

Jonathan Tremain “JT” Thomas is a chaos chaser.

He showed up in Ferguson, Missouri after Michael Brown’s death at the hands of police in 2014 to fight for equal treatment for people of color — but also to help quell the rising violence of protests that were being hijacked by non-local agitators.

This year, he went to Minneapolis after George Floyd died when a white police officer knelt on his neck. He participated in prayer, counseling and services on the very street corner where Floyd lost his life.

“In church circles, there’s been this desire for awakening,” JT says on Slate. “Oh my goodness, it looks like awakening has come to America in the form of chaos.”

Chasing chaos is JT’s full-time job, and his organization, the pun-derived nonprofit “Civil Righteousness” — has been part of the healing balm applied to a nation convulsed by months of protests, vandalism, riots, looting and anarchy. Christian race-relations expert Dante Stewart calls them “the next generation of the racial reconciliation movement.”

He likes to talk to hot-headed young radicals, to white conservative evangelicals and to angry black liberal progressives in their 50s and 60s and get them all thinking outside of their bubbles. “Jesus came for all,” he says. “There are serious issues in policing that need to be addressed, but also the police officers are human.”

With Methodist circuit-rider great grandparents and a grandmother who was sister of soul legend/ civil rights activist Nina Simone, JT says he’s had a confluence of influences to uniquely prepare him for his current ministry.

Raised in a predominately black Baptist church in North Carolina, he launched on the path to become a missionary in college but zeroed in on urban needs in America. He worked in Tennessee and Indiana but struggled to raise support, so he started a video production company and accepted a teaching pastorate in a nondenominational church in St. Louis.

In Minneapolis, the group Civil Righteousness baptized people who were deeply troubled by violence in the city.

Then Ferguson erupted in unrest that quickly spread across the nation. In a dream vision, JT saw himself type an email titled “Meet me in Ferguson” and took it to mean that he should travel there in the name of the Lord.

He joined prayer groups and observed mounting street protests. He confirmed that agitators from St. Louis were the ones stoking the flames of outrage and sparking violence. After two months of trying to inject God into the equation, he moved his family and set up permanent residence in Ferguson.

When white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine black Christians at church in Charleston, South Carolina, JT unobtrusively introduced himself on the scene to conduct prayer services and distributed food to the homeless.

After James Alex Fields Jr. slammed his car into Heather Heyer, killing her, and injured 19 others at a white supremacist rally in Virginia in 2017, JT conducted trainings for local churches on “how to be peacemakers and mediators.”

By then, Civil Righteousness had grown into a network of like-minded Christians who are ready to mobilize like a SWAT team. “We live a lifestyle of readiness,” JT says.

Naturally, they deployed to Minneapolis.

The protests sparked by George Floyd have been different than any previous. They have become more widespread and more supported by politicians and media. They also have been more dominated by Marxists and Antifa. Leaders of BLM have openly declared the Marxist alignment. Antifas engaged in organized anti-police mobilizations, ambushing cops and using lasers to blind them.

In Seattle, hard left activists seized entire city blocks, which they declared their own. The so-called Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone kicked out cops and city officials and practiced self-governance stylized after the hippies of the 60s but with a strong black power undercurrent until two murders occurred and city officials sent police to restore order.

The BLM/Antifa movement of 2020 has prompted a broad band of liberal politicians to “defund” police and ban the use of force by cops. Minneapolis city council voted to “abolish” their police department and set up a network of social workers to respond to 911 calls.

Crime has spiked in New York after Mayor de Blasio, an avowed socialist, blasted the police union representative for inciting violence. De Blasio himself participated in painting “Black Lives Matter” on the city street in front of Trump Tower, an affront to the man whom they accuse of being racist.

JT understands the rage brought by fear of tens of thousands of African Americans who feel targeted by cops.

“When I saw the Floyd video, I was ready to go burn something down. I was angry,” he admits. “But I was like, ‘If I go in my feelings, I am not going to be helpful.’”

In Minneapolis, his group of 20 volunteers assembled a stage for preaching, prayer and worship near the spot where Floyd was killed. They mounted a public gesture of repentance called “the wall, in which they taped over their mouths to stand in silence against “division.”

It has been a contentious four years since Trump took over. The mainstream media has hounded and accused him of all sorts of wickedness. They have overtly advocated murdering Trump. With the Left pushing hard against him, the Right has taken refuge in moving further to the right politically.

JT is all about bridging these divisions. He gets people to talk to each other, and he gets people to looking for solutions in Jesus, not Karl Marx.

“When our teams are there, we have seen the entire atmosphere change,” JT says. “You can’t read the Bible and not see that God calls people to ministry in other places.”

On Saturday, Civil Righteousness organized prayer on Martin Luther King boulevards in 300 cities across America as a “hopeful proclamation.”

“For at least 50 years, protest is the only model we’ve known to provoke action and get attention in the corridors of power, but if we’re going to pursue justice , we have to have righteousness in the corridors of our hearts.”

 

Michael Ashcraft provides for his household while doing Christian journalism by selling Trump coffee mugs on Amazon.

https://mustardseedbudget.wordpress.com/2020/08/10/with-so-much-division-in-america-this-urban-missionary-bridges-the-divide/

‘Civil Righteousness’ group brings healing balm of Jesus to protest sites