Taking God at His Word

Taking God at His Word

John 4:43-54

Dr. Jim Denison

This week’s news reports that eyelash transplantation is the newest cosmetic surgery phenomenon. For $3,000 per eye, a surgeon will transplant hair from the back of your head to your eyelid. But there’s a down side: the hair grows just like the rest of your hair, so it must be trimmed and colored if it turns grey.

Did you hear about the man in Vienna who went through a nasty divorce, then cut off his ring finger, ring still attached, and gave it to his ex-wife? He says he doesn’t plan to get married again, anyway. That’s good news for the rest of his fingers, I suppose.

Cosmetic surgery and other technological innovations enable us to solve more problems than ever before. But the perennial issues of life are still perennial. We still cannot heal broken marriages and hearts and homes. We still cannot give life meaning and purpose, or end all wars, or raise the dead. For that we need the Great Physician to be our King. As we continue studying his miracles in John’s Gospel, answer this question: what miracle do you need today?

Remember what Jesus has done

Our story concerns a “certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum” (v. 46). This man was a most unlikely candidate for a miracle from a Jewish rabbi. He was not just a hated Gentile, but a court officer for King Herod. He was part of the very army oppressing and enslaving the Jewish people. If Hitler’s military chief of staff came to a Jewish rabbi for help during the Holocaust, we’d be no more surprised than John’s readers were shocked by this scene.

But this man knows what Jesus has done before, and has faith that he will do it again. They’re in Cana of Galilee, where Jesus has saved a peasant wedding. He has returned from Jerusalem, where he cleansed the temple, evangelized Nicodemus, was called divine by John the Baptist, and cared for a Samaritan woman. Perhaps he’ll do the same for this grieving father.

Do you need God to heal you or someone you love? To heal physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually? Are you wondering if he will? First, remember what Jesus has already done for you. Think about the ways he has already proven his love for you.

His Son left heaven’s glory to be born in a peasant’s feed trough, just for you. He endured crucifixion, a form of execution so horrific it is outlawed all over the world today, just for you. He has forgiven every failure you have ever confessed to him, and will continue to do so. He knows every sin you’ve ever committed, and what’s more, he sees every sin you will ever commit in the future. But he loves you anyway. He likes you. He finds joy in you even as you hear these words.

He told his prophet, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” (Isaiah 30:18). Think of all the ways he has already blessed you. Does your family love you? So many are trapped in loveless, abusive homes. Has he provided for your material needs through physical abilities and vocational opportunities? So many are trapped in endless poverty. Has he given you the privilege of life in America’s freedom? Who of us earned the right to be born in this country and not in Iraq or North Korea?

I know drug addicts who were miraculously healed of their habit, Satanists who were powerfully converted, prisoners who are now preachers.

I remember a couple brought to one of our worship services in Atlanta by friends. They were planning to file for divorce the next day. But in a Sunday school class that morning, God healed their marriage.

One of our church members here in Dallas came to our country as a Muslim missionary to America, and is now a Christian missionary to Muslims. When he came to Christ, his father back home issued a warrant for his arrest should he ever return. He recently went home anyway, and led his father to Christ.

Think about all the ways God has shown his miraculous power to you and those you know. Remember what he has done. Think back to times when he turned your water into his wine, when he met your needs and those of people you love. Remember what Jesus has done, and you’ll be encouraged to believe that he will do it again.

Bring him your pain

The official in our story is one of the finest examples of biblical faith in all God’s word. He teaches us much about the kind of trust which Jesus can honor with his miraculous power.

First, we trust Jesus personally. “This man” came himself (v. 47), not sending a servant in his place. The Roman teaches us to get on our own knees before Jesus. We must do the same today. Jesus waits to hear from us, not about us. Is he waiting on you today?

Second, we trust Jesus when it’s hard. The Roman official “went” to Jesus (v. 47), walking more than 20 miles and up more than a thousand feet of elevation to reach him. He left a suffering son at home to make the journey. He teaches us to bring Jesus our pain, however hard the journey may be, however difficult such faith is for us.

Third, we trust Jesus in humility. The official “begged him to come and heal his son” (v. 47). He did not order Jesus to do so, though his rank and office would have afforded him such authority. If a high-ranking Army officer stationed in Baghdad were to walk 20 miles to seek help from an Iraqi peasant, we’d be no less astonished. He teaches us to bring Jesus our need, in honest humility, admitting that we cannot solve this problem and asking him to do this in his will and way.


The Peril of Lukewarm Christianity

The Peril of Lukewarm Christianity

Revelation 3:14-22

Dr. Jim Denison

Jim Cymbala is pastor of the world-famous Brooklyn Tabernacle Church. But 30 years ago, it wasn’t that way at all: a handful of people at the weekday prayer meeting, and not many more at Sunday worship. Their building was falling apart, their future with it. In desperation, he and the church began calling on God, seeking the fullness of his Spirit and power and joy. And God has done a miraculous work with them. I have been part of their Tuesday night prayer service, attended by more than 2,000. God is very, very real in their lives and worship.

I was pastor of Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta when I met Jim the first time in his study. Second-Ponce is one of the wealthiest churches in the South. By contrast, I found myself on a campus with security cameras everywhere and two full-time bodyguards. I was taken aback by the poverty and difficulty faced by most of the church’s members. I asked Jim how they were able to do church in such a difficult place.

He smiled and replied, “I don’t see how you are able to do church in such a difficult place. Here, we know we need God. How many of your members can say the same?”

If this were all there is–if your faith story were to conclude today–would you be pleased with what you have experienced of God?

Have you discovered his joy and peace? Have you been used by his Spirit to save souls and change lives? Has your life become all your Father dreamed it would be?

Or, has it been a while since you even thought about such questions? Or since you wished for more in your experience with God than you have? Or since you wanted to be more effective and significant in his Kingdom than you are? Or since God was real for you?

Let’s see if we’re living in Laodicea today, by asking three questions of our souls.

Living in Laodicea

First, is your faith routine?. “I know your deeds,” Jesus says, “that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” (v. 15). Laodicea was founded in the mid-third century B.C. by Antiochus II, who named the city after his wife. Its location, 43 miles southeast of Philadelphia, had every natural resource at its disposal except water. Water had to be transported through stone pipes which were three feet in diameter. This aqueduct system was an engineering marvel, but the water it supplied was adequate at best.

Pipes were laid to two sources, each six miles from Laodicea. One was located at Denizli, to the south. This water was fed by snows from the mountains, and started the journey to Laodicea at near freezing temperature. But by the time it had traveled six miles through sun-warmed stone pipes it became lukewarm.

The other source was the hot springs at Hierapolis to the north. These are still stunningly beautiful and a major tourist attraction. The springs rise from within the city, flow across a wide plateau, and spill over a broad cliff 300 feet high and a mile wide. At its source, this spring is at near boiling temperature, with steam rising from its surface. It felt like a sauna to my touch. But by the time it traveled through six miles of pipes it, too, had become lukewarm.

And so Laodicea knew all about lukewarm water. Unfortunately, lukewarm described not only the city’s water but her Christians as well. Their faith had become routine, comfortable, and boring. The new had worn off their Christianity in the forty years since their church had been founded, and their relationship with Jesus had become a religion about him. They came to worship, listened and gave and sang, but faith was just a part of their lives. They had lost their joy, zeal, and passion. Their hearts were as lukewarm as the water they drank.

The Laodicean Christians remind me of the boy who said to his sister in church, “This is boring!” She elbowed him in the ribs and said, “Shut up. It’s supposed to be boring!” If you wander away from the source of your faith, your faith will become as lukewarm, boring, and routine as Laodicea.

How long has it been since you were excited about coming to church to worship Jesus Christ? When was the last time you were overjoyed to read God’s word, or thrilled to be with him in prayer? Do you share your faith with zeal? Do you give your money to God gratefully? Or is your faith boring and routine?

Second, are you self-sufficient?. Laodicea was one of the wealthiest cities on her continent. She sat astride the intersection of the two great trade routes of the day, one traveling north to south and the other running from west to east. She was also the site of large manufacturing and banking operations, and was especially known for her woolen carpets and clothing.

And so Jesus quotes this church: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing'” (v. 17a). They thought their future secure, their resources sufficient for any crisis. But self-reliant people are always wrong. We all need the protection and power only Jesus can give.

Today beautiful Laodicea lies in ruins, mostly unexcavated. Where this proud city once ruled its valley, it now lies buried beneath a dirt mound. These Christians and their city were self-sufficient, until they were gone.

It’s possible to live in a spiritual Laodicea and not even realize it. To become self-reliant, trusting in our own ideas and abilities. To make decisions, build careers and achieve success, all with little dependence on Jesus’ leadership and help. All the while assuming that our hard work must be pleasing to him.

We so easily make Jesus part of life instead of Lord. Prayer becomes an activity rather than a relationship, the Bible a book rather than a guide, church a building rather than a family, our faith in Jesus an occasional resource rather than a constant commitment. We become human doings rather than human beings.


Turning Wine into Water

Turning Wine into Water

John 2:1-11

Dr. Jim Denison

Recent polls reveal a nation filled with worried people. As the mid-term elections draw near, we are worried about war and terrorism, then about economic issues, taxes and the cost of living, and the moral decline of the nation. Apparently, there is much to worry about.

One in four women and one in six men suffer from clinical depression. Suicide rates have increased substantially in recent years, especially among teenagers. Greatly exacerbating the problem, alcoholism continues to be a tragic problem in this country. For instance, nearly 30 percent of high school seniors have engaged in “binge” drinking in the last two weeks.

There are 4.2 billion pornographic websites on the Internet today. A third of young women in this country become pregnant before reaching the age of 20. Four million teenagers contract a sexually transmitted disease each year.

The story inside the church is not much better than in the larger culture. According to recent reports, only half of all believers say they have experienced a genuine connection with God in the last year. The typical churchgoer will never lead someone to Christ in his or her lifetime. Christians spend less time reading the Bible than talking about personal hobbies and interests. Fewer than one in ten Christian families pray together outside of church.

We’ll learn today the difference between our water and God’s wine. You can have one or the other, but not both. When we’re finished with our study of God’s word, I hope you’ll choose wisely, for the sake of your church and your soul.

Have you invited Jesus to your wedding?

Our story unfolds on a Wednesday afternoon at a wedding. On the previous Sabbath, Jesus called James and John to be his first followers (John 1:39). Andrew and Simon joined him the following day (John 1:40-42). On Monday he called Philip and Nathaniel to discipleship, and “decided to leave for Galilee” (John 1:43). His fledgling group traveled on Tuesday, arriving late that evening or Wednesday morning.

Jesus’ group has come to a wedding, one of the greatest occasions of common life in ancient Palestine. The marriage ceremony was celebrated late Wednesday evening after an all-day feast. Then the couple was led to their new home under the light of flaming torches, with a canopy held over their heads. For a week they wore crowns, dressed in bridal robes, and were treated and even addressed as a king and queen. In lives filled with poverty and hard work, this was a joyous celebration for the entire village.

So to this village, Jesus came. Cana was so insignificant that its location has not been determined with absolute certainty. Most archaeologists identify it as Kefr Kenna, 3.5 miles from Nazareth, though other locations are also possible. It is mentioned twice in John’s gospel, and nowhere else in God’s word.

Jesus could have begun his public ministry in any way he chose. If you possessed his miraculous, divine powers, how would you first tell the world? Would you raise a Lazarus from his grave? Would you feed a multitude of 5,000 with a small boy’s lunch? Would you walk on the sea? Would you open blind eyes? Would you reveal your powers to Herod in Caesarea or Caesar in Rome? Jesus began in an obscure, rural village, by blessing a peasant wedding.

If he would come to their village, he’ll come to yours. Have you invited him?

Who have you put in charge of your life?

Now comes the crisis. Hospitality in the Middle and Far East was and is a sacred duty. When serving as a missionary in East Malaysia I was often privileged to be welcomed into the simplest of village huts. The mother would always set food before me. It might be goat’s milk or bean curd, but it was her best and I was obligated to eat it. (Fish eyes were the greatest test of faith I encountered.) No one in the Palestine of Jesus’ day would think of inviting a guest to their home without providing them a meal. And if the wine or food ran out, such would be a social catastrophe.

Nowhere was such hospitality more mandatory than at one’s wedding. The entire village was there. Families saved for years to provide for the occasion. To run out of wine would be a nightmare beyond contemplation. It simply wasn’t done. Such a failure could not be tolerated. If you invited friends and family to Christmas dinner but ran out of food to feed them, you would be embarrassed. If you were a bride or groom in Jesus’ day and ran out of wine, you would be humiliated for the rest of your life.

So Mary comes to Jesus with this crisis: “They have no more wine” (v. 3). Why him? Because they have nowhere else to turn, and she knows it.

His response seems very strange to our ears: “Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come” (v. 4). This was a Jewish idiom which is better translated, “Dear lady, why do you ask me to solve the problem in this way? The time for my public miracles has not yet come.”

She knew that he would meet the need in his own way, so Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” She gives him the problem, then trusts him with the answer.

Jesus then used the human to accomplish the divine: “Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons” (v. 6).

“Ceremonial washing” was vitally important to the Jews of Jesus’ day (see 2 Kings 3:11; Mark 7:3; John 13:4-10; John 3:25). It was the physical means by which they ensured that they were spiritually clean while living in this fallen world.

Each water pot contained about 20 gallons. By transforming this much water, Jesus created 2,000 four-ounce glasses of wine. Using the customary dilution of two parts wine with three parts water, Jesus provided enough wine to last the entire wedding week.