Please Tell Us, Is Jesus The Messiah?

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John 10:22 – 30

22 It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. 23 He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. 26 But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

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There are twenty one chapters in the Gospel of John.  Our study today is in the middle of chapter ten.  By the law of averages, you might think that we are about half way done telling the story of the life and ministry of Jesus.  But that is not true.  Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his public ministry.  It lasted about 3 1/2  years long.  This festival that Jesus attended would have been about four months before he died.

We will see when we get to the start of chapter 12, that the majority of the second half of this book deals with the final week of Jesus’ life.  Those last ten chapters cover the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, his arrest, trial and crucifixion, his burial and resurrection and his final appearances to the disciples.  Suddenly, a lot happened in a very short time.

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But notice what the people are saying to Jesus in verse 24 of our passage above.  For three years Jesus had gained quite a reputation with all of the miracles he had performed and the incredible teaching and preaching tours he had gone on throughout the provinces of Galilee, Samaria and Judea, and on the far side of the Jordan River.

You would wonder how the people could have asked this question, “If you are the Messiah, then tell us plainly.”  It is kind of like many people today I think that ask the question, “Is there really a God?”  One of my answers is, “Open your eyes and take a look all around you.  The vast beauty of the created Universe, the odds of life happening at all here on earth, and the intricate design of the human body calls out to me that there must be a Grand Designer behind it all.

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Listen then to how Jesus replied to their question: “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name.”  Now you may be thinking similarly to these Jewish people long ago, “What is this proof you are talking about?”  I believe that if we have been listening well to all that has happened and all that Jesus taught in the first ten chapters of John, we would know the answer.

In one of my commentary helps on John, called “The Translators Handbook,” it has this excellent summary that I would like to quote.  It says:

The Festival of Dedication is the last in the series of four important Jewish holy days mentioned in John’s Gospel, beginning in Chapter 5 (the Sabbath, Passover, Shelters, and Dedication). By healing the lame man on the Sabbath day, Jesus indicated his superiority over the Sabbath; by the teaching given in connection with the healing (5.17), he identified himself and his activity with God and with God’s work.

During the Passover Festival Jesus fed the multitude and so revealed that he was the life-giving bread that God had sent down from heaven. And at the Festival of Shelters, Jesus revealed himself as the life-giving water and the light for the world, thus fulfilling the meaning of the water and light ceremonies connected with that festival.

Now, at the Festival of Dedication, Jesus affirms that he is the one whom God has dedicated and sent into the world.

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To those who are really paying attention and are spiritually searching for the Truth, they will find it.  And they will recognize Jesus for who He really is.  And He in turn will recognize them as His people.  This leads us to one very ticklish doctrine that can trip up many people.  In verses 28–29, Jesus states that these people who do believe in Him cannot be snatched out of His hands, nor out of the Father’s hands.

This has led to a doctrinal idea of “eternal salvation”, the idea of “once saved, always saved”.  I really do not want to discuss this doctrinal idea as it has caused more arguments among Christians than it ever ought to have.  I do have one comment that may be helpful, which is based on the text as we have it.

We cannot comment on the will and action of the person who has put his life into the hands of Jesus and the Father, such as, will he/she remain faithful to God or not.  What this passage does say, is that there is no power greater than God Himself which can pull a devoted follower away from God.  My prayer is that all people might come to realize that Jesus is in fact the promised Messiah, and remain in that state of belief.  The promise is that no external force or person can steal that relationship with God away from the believer.  Praise God for that.

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A Response to Max Lucado’s “Open Doors” – Pt. 1

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A few weeks ago, I wrote two articles that dealt with the topic “God Opens Doors and God Closes Doors.”  These articles were based off of chapter eight of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story.”  I received a response from one of my readers who raised some interesting points and asked some good questions.  I would like to paste his comment and try to give a good response to him.

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“I have not read Max Lucado’s book so my thoughts are incomplete. However I want to address one aspect of what you are saying.  It is common for people, particularly Christians to say, “if its of God, then the door will be open, if it’s not then the door will be closed”.  This all sounds fine, but it lacks scriptural evidence and it also ignores the same activities of Satan. It may sometimes be true, but we first need to actually hear from God before assuming such a fact.

In the book of Proverbs, the door of the harlot was constantly open with direct invites to any young man on the street. Is it therefore of God?  On the other hand, the door into the promised land was closed off from the Israelites by the threat of the giants who were not about to relinquish power. Was it therefore NOT the will of God?

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Door open, door closed are not paths we can assume are God’s. They may confirm a path -alongside other indicators, but only a fool would blindly assume.  The problem with just letting your path be defined by open or shut doors is that it absolves a believer from listening and discerning the voice of God. It avoids relationship.

Many years ago I was asked to lead an informal discussion group in a church on the character of God. The group was very reluctant to contribute, but I encouraged them by asking appropriate questions around the circle about what they thought the character of God was like. When we had finished, to their horror, I congratulated them on accurately defining the character of Allah, not God!

“Inshallah, It is the will of God” might well be the cry of much of the church!”

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At first glance, what our friend has written may sound like he is very antagonistic towards the Church and Christianity.  He does certainly end with a couple of shocking and provocative thoughts.  But I would like to look more carefully at what this man has said.  I believe that he has hit upon some very important points that we need to pay attention to lest our faith be not grounded properly upon the truths found in Scripture.

The first thing we need to do when seeking truth is to check out in the Bible if God’s Word has something to say on the topic.  And we do in fact find the words and the concept of this in a number of biblical passages.  Let me list a few here:

Matthew 7:7-8  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Acts 14:27  “On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. ”

1 Corinthians 16:8  “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

Colossians 4:3  “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.

Probably the most well-known passage that deals with this idea of God opening and closing doors as a means of giving guidance to His people can be found in Acts chapter 16, where Paul desired to preach the Gospel throughout Asia, but God’s Spirit intervened in some way to close that pathway and opened one up for him to take the Gospel to Europe.  Read that account here:

6 Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. 7 Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. 8 So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.

9 That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.

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From these verses above, we can truthfully say that God does interact with His people and guide them in some supernatural way to show that one course of direction may not be what He wants us to do, and that another course of action may in fact be what He wants us to do.  But let us still be very cautious about throwing these phrases around so quickly, “God opend the door for me….” or “God closed the door for me….”

I agree very much with my friend who wrote above that we can so flippantly state that God is the Agent behind an event in our lives, when there can be a number of other causes behind the circumstances of our lives.  I have much more to say on this, but I will write a further article on this topic next week.

Power Can Blind People From The Truth

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John 7:45 – 52

45 When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded.

47 “Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. 48 “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? 49 This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”

50 Then Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. 51 “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Search the Scriptures and see for yourself—no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”

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It is really sad when we see people in places of authority abuse their power and consider themselves “better” than the average person.  This is the case with the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day.  These men, who either inherited their positions or achieved them through years of rigorous study of the Scriptures, truly thought they were above ordinary citizens.

For quite a few generations, the religious leaders believed that they were the only ones who really understood what God’s Word had to say and what it meant.  And they reinforced this by creating a myriad of rules that the people were supposed to obey in the hopes that their good actions and their animal sacrifices to God would make them acceptable to God.

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Then Jesus came along and preached a different message.  He talked about loving God and loving people as being the greatest commandments, not the religious rules and rituals that the Jewish officials said were so important to uphold.  In effect, Jesus challenged not only their teachings, but also their very positions of authority.

They had to put a stop to this then and they sent out temple guards to arrest Jesus.  But when the guards heard Jesus cry out, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me!  Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (vv. 37-38), they found themselves unable to arrest Jesus.  For this was the kind of spiritual message they had always longed to hear, but had never heard before.

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This response of the guards infuriated the Jewish leaders.  They attempt to condemn the average person by calling them all fools, ignorant of God’s laws, and people whom God would curse, meaning they would be destroyed by God’s wrath in the final day of judgment.  In their jealousy and anger, they did not realize that they were condemning themselves to face God’s wrath.

Check out Matthew chapter 23 where Jesus declares that they are all hypocrites, blind guides, white-washed tombs, and snakes who are full of wickedness.  Even though one man, Nicodemus, tried to be reasonable and suggest that they look carefully into this matter of trying to arrest Jesus, the leaders turned on him and accused him of not knowing their own Scriptures.

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This passage is relevant for us today, for there are leaders even within our churches today who would place religious rituals ahead of having a living relationship with Jesus.  We must choose carefully those whom we would place in positions of authority in the church.  But it would also be very good for leaders today to remember that Jesus said to His followers, “The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)

But let me suggest that this attitude of “spiritual elitism” can be found in any person of any church, whether they are in a position of authority or not.  It is very dangerous for any one of us to think that we are more “spiritual” than anther brother or sister in the faith.  We can easily fall into the trap of being like the person who has a wooden plank in their own eye (i.e. sin in their life), but who tries to remove the speck of sawdust from their friend’s eye.  (Matthew 7:1-5)

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Let me go one step further here and ask what attitudes we have about Christians in other denominational churches.  Ouch!!  This can reveal some bad attitudes and prejudices that might not be very godly.  Do we have the grace of God enough to be able to work with, even fellowship with others who genuinely are seeking God, but do not do it the same way that we do?

I know this can be difficult.  And I do not want in any way to water down the Gospel or compromise my core beliefs in God and Jesus.  Consider the choice that our family had when we worked in that small village in Papua New Guinea for five years.  At that time, the only church present there was a little Catholic church, overseen by a few national men who had been taught to lead people in some songs, read a few Scriptures and make a short comment on how it could help us in our walk with God.

We easily could have just stayed in our house and had our own family worship time and kept well away from that village church.  But what message would that give the people?  So in addition to our personal worship time, we would often attend the village church to support the idea of public worship of God.  I do know that a few of the people were sincere believers in Christ, and I believe our presence encouraged them in their faith.  Please, let us all accept our brothers and sisters as equals, wherever we may find them.

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A Spiritual Harvest Stands Ready

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John 4:27, 31 – 38

27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 

35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

                                

In the middle of the story about the conversation Jesus has with the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, we see the disciples have returned from buying food in the nearby city.  Their entrance on to the scene interrupts the conversation, but the woman has come to understand enough about who Jesus is that she runs off back to town to tell her friends about Him.

It is not unusual for anyone to be a bit confused as to what is really going on when that person comes into the middle or end of a conversation between other people.  Our passage here though says that the disciples “marvelled” when they saw Jesus talking with the woman.  It is doubtful they marvelled because Jesus was talking to a woman, for He had done that on previous occasions.  Rather, as Jews, they would have been very surprised that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan.

(Read “Jesus, Giver of Living Water” to understand the negative attitude that existed between Jews and Samaritans in the time of Jesus.)

    

Now that the disciples have come back with food, they urge Jesus to eat some.  We know from chapter four that Jesus and the disciples are weary from their long journey walking from the Judean countryside to the Province of Samaria.  But Jesus confounds them when He says he has food to eat of which they do not know.

The disciples wrongly assume that someone has come and given Jesus some physical food to eat.  But as is so often true with Jesus, He is talking about spiritual food.  What He is really saying is that doing the will of God, or obeying whatever God has said to do, is so rewarding that it is just as if He had been filled and satisfied with physical bread.

I would venture to say that this concept would be very hard for any one of us to understand.  We are all so caught up and bound by our physical world and attachment to it, that we can hardly see how doing God’s will can satisfy us physically.  But there really is a great connection between the physical and the spiritual realms.  I can say from my own experiences after preaching a powerful sermon, or sharing intently the Good News of Jesus with another person, that I find I lose track of time and I feel little need or craving for food at that time.  God really is enough in these kinds of situations.

    

Going on to verses 35 – 38, Jesus presents at least a couple more spiritual truths that I want to make sure that we do not miss.  I do find it amazing how Jesus can use so many ordinary day-to-day events and make spiritual applications out of them.  In these final verses of this passage, Jesus uses the normal activity of sowing and harvesting of a crop to teach us important truths.

The first thing that we can learn from this analogy is that there is a natural process that we should expect from sowing and reaping.  Just as a farmer will expect a harvest in his field to appear after four months of working and waiting, so we too should expect after a time that all the spiritual work that we have been doing should at some point produce a spiritual harvest.

Now some of us may be the actual spiritual sowers who plant the Word of God into the hearts and lives of others, or we may be those who tend and care for spiritually that which has been sown either in our lives or in someone else’s life.  The reward will ultimately be eternal life for those who have believed.  And those who sowed the seed of Life, and those who nurture that seed and see it grow, will both rejoice when that soul is ushered one day into the great eternal City of God.

    

But there is one more spiritual truth here that goes beyond the natural order of life.  A farmer may have to wait four months for his harvest.  But Jesus implies that the spiritual seed which is sown could produce even at that very moment a new spiritual birth.  What a wonderful hope and promise, that we may be privileged to see God’s Word take root right away with positive eternal consequences.

This is what we will see in the next article as we pick up the story again of the Samaritan woman.  Let us have the same kind of work ethic and faith as Jesus had.  Serving God is real nourishment for our bodies and our souls.  And if we do God’s work and will, we may even see the fruit of our labours happen right in front of our eyes.

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Jesus, More Than A Prophet

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John 4:16 – 26

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – Pt. 2

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.

20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

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In last week’s article about the conversation between Jesus and this Samaritan woman (read here), we learned some important things that show how unusual the conversation really was.  Culturally, it was not really proper for Jesus, a man, to have a social conversation with a woman in public.  Even more significant was the fact that there was a religious stigma attached to Samaritans, and so it was highly unusual for Jesus as a Jew to be talking with this woman.

Then we explored the idea that this woman may have even been a social outcast even in her own small town.  The hint we got from the previous verses was that she was coming down at noon in the heat of the day to get water from the well.  Normally, women would go down either in the cool of the morning or the evening to get their water and would socialize with each other.  But this woman did not appear to be accepted and for this reason came down at noon.  We can see from our passage above the reason for her being ostracized due to being a woman married to five husbands, and now sleeping with a sixth man.

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But Jesus looked past and cut through all these walls of social stigmas and saw a person of worth in front of him.  But how could he do this in a gentle and non-threatening way?  He used her need for daily water to attract her attention by offering to give her “living water”.  This did intrigue her and so the conversation began.  But Jesus also saw all the social and religious baggage that this woman carried and he had to lovingly go slow to bring her to the point of wanting to accept and believe in Him who was the true Living Water.

Jesus began then by asking the woman about her home.  His question seems so simple and innocent, “Go call your husband.”  I believe that Jesus was testing the woman to see if she would be honest with him that she was not actually married to the man she was currently sleeping with.  She does tell the truth, opens up herself on one level, and Jesus takes this opportunity to let her know that in fact Jesus knew all about her home life situation.

Seeing this kind of perception, the woman naturally thought that Jesus must be some kind of prophet.  She is not quite ready to open her heart up further yet, so she counters Jesus with a side topic of worship, pointing out that Jews worship in Jerusalem, but the Samaritans had the religious habit or worshiping God up on Mount Gerazim in the Province of Samaria.  (Was she perhaps trying to impress Jesus that she was a religious person?)

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 But Jesus cuts through that statement to make the bold statement that worship is not to be defined by a specific ritual done in a specific place, whether that was in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerazim.  For as Jesus goes on to explain, true worship of God occurs within a person’s heart.  You see, real worship is based off of a relationship with God and a heart attitude of love, adoration and obedience.  Worship should never be limited to our physical posture and place of gathering.  No, we can worship God anywhere and at any time from out of our heart to God.

This is when the woman clearly sees the point, but deflects Jesus by saying that when the Messiah comes, the One whom God anointed to bring salvation to people, then He would explain things to her and she would be able to worship God in truth and in spirit.  Do you see how gently Jesus led this woman down deeper and deeper into spiritual truth to the point that she admitted her need for the Messiah in her life?  And then Jesus gives his grand statement to her, “I who speak to you am he [the Messiah].”

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What a wonderful passage this is.  And as we will see later, what a wonderful joy came to this woman who had discovered her Messiah.  But let me ask you this now in closing.  Where are you in your relationship with Jesus?  Have you let Him come in to affect positively your life at home?  Are your religious activities just routine habits?  Or have you accepted the face that Jesus is in fact the Messiah, the One whom God chose to bring salvation to the world.  Have you given your heart to Jesus?  Perhaps it is time to do just that.

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The Connection Between Heaven And Earth

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John 3:31 – 36

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.

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These six verses taken just by themselves can be extremely difficult to follow and to understand.  Often, when we encounter a difficult teaching passage like this, there are at least two ways that we can gain help from Scripture to understand Scripture.  I will do my best here to try to unearth what I believe are the deep truths being taught here.

First of all, we must try to see if we can find a key thought or central message that is being taught here.  It seems to me that verse 35 may be the most important truth which will shed light on the rest of the passage, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand”.  This shows the preeminent place that Jesus holds, and establishes His divine authority.  Keep this in mind as we unravel the rest of the passage.

Secondly, it is always important to see the larger context in which a passage is found.  The last verse revisits the themes of spiritual life and salvation to those who believe in Jesus, vs. spiritual death and condemnation to those who don’t believe.  That was the concluding thought in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.  Verses 31 – 33 become clearer when we realize that this comes immediately after John the Baptist states that Jesus must become greater and he (John) must become less significant.

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It would probably be very helpful if we were to replace the many pronouns “he” with the person who is in view, and to bring out explicitly the things that are implicit (i.e. the things that are truths below the text but can be brought up to the surface of the text to be seen more clearly).  See if this helps:

31 He (Jesus) who comes from above (Heaven) is above all (greater than any other). He (John) who is of the earth (i.e. is a human) belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way (speaks about matters that concern us in this earthly life). He who comes from heaven is above all.

 32 He (Jesus) bears witness to (shares a message concerning) what he (Jesus) has seen and heard (in Heaven, ie. “spiritual truths”), yet no one (humanity in general) receives his testimony. 33 Whoever (a person who has faith) receives his testimony (Jesus’ message) sets his seal to this (gives his approval, or agrees), that God is true (that the message about God is true).

You can see how tricky it can be to understand these verses unless we first carefully define each person and idea in these verses.  But once we do that, then the meaning becomes so much clearer.  There is a fundamental reality here, namely that there is an earthly existence (that which you and I are experiencing right now), but that there is also a spiritual existence.  That is the realm of God.

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These two realms though, that of Heaven and that of earth, are not to be thought of as separate and isolated from each other.  No, we see immediately in verse 34 that “the Father sent him (Jesus)” to come into the world and “utter the words of God”.  In simpler terms, Jesus came down from Heaven to teach us all about who God is and what the Kingdom of God is like.

Note one very important detail here.  Even though God had sent many messengers before to proclaim the truths of God, namely prophets, Jesus is different from these messengers for it says in verse 34 that God gave His Spirit to Jesus “without measure”, i.e. completely and without limitation.  Prophets had a portion of the Spirit to declare divine truths, but Jesus was given limitless access to God’s Spirit which gave him full ability to bring messages of divine truth to mankind.

Regarding John 3:33-34, Carson’s Commentary on John says:

Throughout redemptive history, God spoke to his people through many accredited messengers. Each received that measure of the Spirit that was required for his or her assigned task. Three centuries after John wrote, Rabbi Aha rightly commented that the Holy Spirit who rested on the prophets did so according to the measure of each prophet’s assignment.  Not so to Jesus: to him God gives the Spirit without limit.

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This brings us to the key verse of 3:35, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.”  And verse 36 goes on to state specifically what it is that God had given to His Son.  As Heaven and Earth connect through the Person of Jesus, it is declared by the Father that the Son has the right to give eternal life to whoever would believe in Him.  The opposite is also made clear.  To those who do not believe in Jesus and thus disobey God, to them comes condemnation and eternal punishment.

Dear friends: this life is the prelude to the next life.  What you decide here in this earthly realm will determine your fate and condition in the spiritual and eternal realm.  What will you decide?