During January 2021 we read through the Gospel of John. Just one chapter a day--first the 21 chapters in John’s Gospel. Later in the month we will also read and study the 3 Epistles (brief letters) of John. For each chapter, I provide daily highlights, insights, points to ponder, background information and personal application. Pray God strengthens our faith on this spiritual journey in His Holy Word.
NOTE: Today’s comments are a bit longer than usual, but it is SO exciting to study and ponder John 3. We can never fully mine the riches of Christ’s love and Good News for our lives!
TRUE STORY: Did you hear? AMEN is in the news!
This may ruffle a few feathers, but as one of your Pastors I feel compelled to comment! U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver from the Kansas City area gave the opening “prayer” for the start of the 117th session of the U.S. House of Representatives Sunday, January 3, 2021. His so-called “prayer” in my humble opinion was mostly pagan jibberish and universalistic heresy--and the ending was epic! You can look up the video on YouTube--I’m not kidding--Rep. Cleaver ended his “prayer” with “Amen and awoman.” The attempts to redefine reality and erase or neuter all gender references in our society is ridiculous and contrary to God’s Word.
In response to Rep. Cleaver’s pitiful, pagan “prayer,” I offer this prayer: Lord, have mercy on America and help us! Forgive our national and personal sins and save us! Send us Your Spirit to give us faith in Jesus. In the Name of Jesus, the One and only Savior for sinful humanity. AMEN!
JOHN 3: Insights, Highlights and Points to Ponder:
Speaking of “Amen,” NOTE that Jesus says repeatedly in John 3: “Truly, truly, I say to you…” in verses 3, 5, and 11. What is translated as “Truly, truly” is actually “Amen, amen” in the original New Testament. The Bible translation in use by most of our LCMS--the English Standard Version (ESV)--accurately translates the Hebrew term “Amen, amen” as “Truly, truly.”
Here’s the TRUE biblical meaning of AMEN from commentary in our excellent, faithful, scholarly, and accurate Lutheran Study Bible (CPH.org), p. 1784:
Amen comes from the Hebrew word for faith or faithfulness. When used as a verb, this word meant “to establish, support, or make certain.”
Amen is one of those unique Hebrew words that has followed the Gospel into every language in which it has been preached. Most people are familiar with amen as a conclusion for prayers. When used in this way, amen means “may it be so” or “may this prayer be fulfilled.” In John’s Gospel, amen takes on a different sense. When doubled up at the beginning of a Scripture passage, amen means “truly,” “verily,” or “surely.”
John is the only Gospel to feature this double amen. He records numerous examples of Christ saying, “Amen, amen,”as He is about present a new thought. In the ESV, the double amentranslates as “Truly, truly,” which ties beautifully to John’s words that Christ is full of grace and truth (1:14)…
In each case “Amen, amen”statements confront those who do not understand Jesus or who doubt His message. Jesus uses this phrase again and again, almost like one uses an oath today, affirming His testimony.
We now read: John 3 (interspersed with commentary and insights)
The Questions of Nicodemus and the Answers of Jesus
3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
What was the Sanhedrin? The Sanhedrin was comprised of 70 elders (men), the presiding chief priest, and the scribes who were legal experts in Judaism. They oversaw religious and some civil matters in Judea (LSB, p. 1556.) Nicodemus was a Jewish leader and member of the influential Sanhedrin. He came to Jesus under cover of darkness at night likely to avoid controversy with his Jewish colleagues. It appears the Holy Spirit was working on the heart and mind of Nicodemus.
NOTE: Towards the end of John’s Gospel, after Jesus is crucified, Nicodemus shows up again in John 19:39, Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.
QUESTION: How is a person “born again” according to Jesus in John 3:3-7?
Jesus ANSWERS: “Truly, truly, (“Amen, amen”) I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Jesus tells Nicodemus (AND US!) we are born anew spiritually through the power of God’s Spirit working through Holy Baptism. At first Nicodemus incorrectly thought Jesus was describing the need for second physical and impossible birth from the “womb” of our mother. Jesus clarifies He is speaking about a spiritual re-birth by the power of God’s Spirit.
Important NOTE: The term “born again” that has come into common use is actually better translated “born from above.”
Jesus clearly combines and connects “water and the Spirit.” This is Sacramental. In a similar miraculous manner, Jesus combines and connects His very Presence to ordinary bread and wine in Holy Communion through which we receive grace and forgiveness and our faith is strengthened by His very body and blood! It is all a mystery--AND a miracle! We simply take Jesus at His Word.
Comments on the HOLY SPIRIT: In John 3:8 Jesus compares the working of God’s Holy Spirit to the WIND. We cannot capture or control the wind, but we feel it’s presence. In fact, the Old Testament Hebrew term for SPIRIT (ruach) can be translated as “wind.”
In his explanation to the THIRD Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther provides one of his most brilliant and beautiful comments (in my view) about God’s gift of faith and the way the Spirit operates in our lives. Luther writes: (Was ist das?) What does this mean?
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
Bonus Prayer: Dear God, let the wind of Your Spirit blow over me, around me, and in me with Your grace and gift of faith in Jesus! Amen.
We continue in John 3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
In order to fully grasp the riches of John 3, we need to remember the Old Testament story of God punishing the Children of Israel for their unbelief, their repentance and cry for mercy, followed by God’s love in action to save them. John 3:14-15 refers to Numbers 22:4 From Mount Hor [the Children of Israel] set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
For God So Loved the World
Jesus says: 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
QUESTION: So…Is it Law and Gospel or Gospel and Law? Answer: YES. These verses are overflowing with God’s Good News and salvation for us earned and given by Jesus. These verses also bluntly state that unbelief (rejecting Jesus) brings condemnation. Simply put, unbelief condemns. If we are saved, it is 100% a gift of God. If we are condemned by unbelief, it is our own damn fault (pardon the language; but it’s God’s TRUTH). God truly desires that ALL people be saved (I Timothy 2:1-4) and walk in the light of His love (Jn. 3:19-21); but as Jesus says, many choose darkness and unbelief. John 3 is not just a bunch of platitudes, theory, or sappy faith stuff. These words of Jesus have to do with the eternal salvation of our souls!
John 3:16 is the favorite verse of many. It is known as “The Gospel in a nutshell.” Instead of making academic comments, I share with you this brief devotion I wrote:
John 3:16--this single verse from Scripture provides a simple summary of our salvation. It is packed with the precious promises of God’s ever present love in our lives. The term for God’s love used in John 3:16 is the verb for agape (“ah-gah-pay“). God is love, and Jesus is God’s love in person. God saved us from sin and death by sending Jesus, His Son, to be our Savior. Love crucified arose! Whenever we ponder John 3:16, God’s incredible Good News and amazing agape permeate this passage filled with promises for us:
Christ’s love is unconditional --
It is an undeserved gift.
“For God so loved…”
Christ’s love is universal --
It is for all humanity of all ages.
“…God so loved the world…”
Christ’s love is sacrificial --
God paid the debt demanded for our sins.
“...He gave his only Son…”
Christ’s love is personal --
We insert our own name in this verse.
“…that whoever believes…”
Christ’s love is eternal--
As we trust in Jesus and live in His love, we…
“...shall not perish but have eternal life!”
We continue in John 3: John the Baptist Exalts Christ.
22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).
25 Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Comments: Some disciples of John the Baptist are curious and envious of Jesus. But John points out that his primary job is/was simply to point people to Jesus. Perhaps we can think of John the Baptizer as the “Best Man” for Jesus, and Jesus is the Bridegroom for His bride, the Church (verse 27-29). Verse 30 best sums up the mission of John the Baptist: “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.” It would also be “good, right, and salutary” to apply this verse (Jn. 3:30) to our lives.
Notice How the Trinity (Father, Son, & Spirit in One God) Is Present in the Final Verses of John 3:
31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
The Lutheran Study Bible(LSB) provides a powerful and succinct Law/Gospel summary of John 3:22-36 (CPH.org, LSB p. 1786):
John the Baptist steps aside when Christ comes because Jesus is the Son of God from heaven and possesses the Holy Spirit without measure. God reveals His wrath against those who do not believe in His Son and deprives them of everlasting life. But He gives everlasting life to all who trust in Jesus.
+Prayer+ Lord Jesus, give to me a full measure of Your Spirit, that I may always remain faithful to You and bear witness to You. Amen.
Practical APPLICATION of John 3: Who is a person you know who needs to experience the love of Jesus? Pray for God’s Spirit to open their heart and mind to the love of Christ and grant them faith.
+ PRAYER: Dear Heavenly Father, Your love for me is incredible and life-changing! Thank You for loving sinners like me so much that You sent Your only begotten Son Jesus to forgive my sins and save me. You demonstrate Your unconditional, sacrificial love for me through the perfect life, undeserved suffering, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection of Your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Thank You for making me Your child through Holy Baptism and for giving me new spiritual birth and faith through the gift of Your Holy Spirit. Please strengthen my faith in and love for Jesus, in Whose Name I pray.
(And ALL God’s people say): Amen. (Just “Amen.” That’s enough.)