The Promises to Abraham in Mary’s Magnificat

Last Thursday evening I taught on Luke 1, specifically Mary’s Magnificat.  I really enjoyed studying for this passage and teaching it. The scope of redemptive history is really encapsulated well in this passage, and I hope you enjoy these notes as you read through the verses…

1:39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, [40] and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. [41] And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, [42] and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! [43] And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? [44] For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. [45] And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

The hill country here in is south of where Mary would likely have been. The largest town in that area was Hebron at this time, although we aren’t told where Zachariah and Elizabeth are specifically living.

When Mary arrives the baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumps and Elizabeth interprets this through the Spirit as a joyous reaction to Mary’s arrival.

Elizabeth goes on to bless Mary with her mouth and her words go right to Mary’s heart. There truly is a blessing for those who believe in what God says, is there not?  And I can’t help but think of how reassured Mary must have felt at the words of Elizabeth.  How very confirming are these words from the mouth of her elder cousin must have been.  Yet, as we shall see shortly, the Spirit of God had been at work within Mary, and her heart responds in such a way that indicates a supernatural work of the Lord within her.  When our lips reflect the heart change we’ve had, God is pleased.

The Magnificat

What we find in the Magnificat (a title taken from the first word in Latin which simply means “magnifies”) below is one praise after another to the glory of God.  His greatness, the scope of His plan, and the intricacies of His mercy are extolled in great relish by one of “humble” and lowly estate.

For these words to have come from a simple teenage girl indicate the greatness of God’s work within Mary, and the fact that His Spirit was filling her.  It’s also a testimony to the fact that she knew her Bible really really well (Cf. Ryle and Col. 3:16)!  Philip G. Ryken says, “The Magnificat either quotes from or alludes to verses from Genesis, Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Samuel, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. Mary tried to put virtually the whole Bible into her song.”

One of the most popular comparisons of Mary’s song is in the similarities with Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:

[1] And Hannah prayed and said,
            “My heart exults in the LORD;
                        my horn is exalted in the LORD.
            My mouth derides my enemies,
                        because I rejoice in your salvation.
            [2] “There is none holy like the LORD:
                        for there is none besides you;
                        there is no rock like our God.
            [3] Talk no more so very proudly,
                        let not arrogance come from your mouth;
            for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
                        and by him actions are weighed.
            [4] The bows of the mighty are broken,
                        but the feeble bind on strength.
            [5] Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
                        but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
            The barren has borne seven,
                        but she who has many children is forlorn.
            [6] The LORD kills and brings to life;
                        he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
            [7] The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
                        he brings low and he exalts.
            [8] He raises up the poor from the dust;
                        he lifts the needy from the ash heap
            to make them sit with princes
                        and inherit a seat of honor.
            For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
                        and on them he has set the world.
            [9] “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
                        but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
                        for not by might shall a man prevail.
            [10] The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
                        against them he will thunder in heaven.
            The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
                        he will give strength to his king
                        and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
(1 Samuel 2:1-10 ESV)
 

Mary knew this song and the Bible as a whole very well.  The scriptures were on her heart. The Holy Spirit was obviously inspiring her to say these things, but “He works with what’s there” (Cf. conversation with Parris Payden).  It wasn’t as if the Spirit was teaching her on the fly or putting these words into her mind that she’d never known before.

            1:46-47 And Mary said,
            “My soul magnifies the Lord,
            and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 

There is a clear exaltation of the Lord here. Who is responsible for all that that is happening to Mary?  There’s no doubt in Mary’s mind that it is the Lord! Any fear that she may have had in that initial confrontation with the angel, or in the quiet times of gathering anxiety since then is not apparent here.  God has prepared her heart to face this adventure.

Ryken comments on the absence of specifics about the baby she’s carrying, “Mary had the godliness to look beyond her gift and praise the God who gave it. To magnify means to enlarge, and what Mary wanted to enlarge was her vision of God. Her goal was to show His greatness.” 

            1:48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
            For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

 

Mary has no delusions about her position.  She has not become puffed up, or haughty. We don’t think much about that, but how easily do we become puffed up when God has entrusted us with a ministry.  We are entrusted with the Word of God…Mary was entrusted with the Word of God incarnate.  Definitely a different mission, but certainly one that didn’t seem to puff her up – she knows her place and her place is to be God’s “servant.”

Secondly, she recognizes (correctly) the historical significance of what she’s doing. She sees where this fits into the span of world history – and it’s a big deal.  So get this, in one breath she labels herself a “humble servant” and in another she says, “All generations will call (her) blessed”!  One can only conclude therefore that while Mary is a humble servant, God is going to use her to accomplish something worthy of the entire rest of world history looking back on her and praising God.  That’s a pretty significant understanding of the role she was playing in God’s plan – especially significant that she can at one time be so humble, and still understand her significance.

            1:49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
            and holy is his name. 
 

The close connection between God’s holiness and his goodness is key here.  Not only that, but God’s mightiness is used in such a way that we benefit from His goodness.  If God were all-powerful and yet not good, this would be a scary world!  But at the center of all things He is holy.  Holiness is not an extension of Him or His character – He is holy by definition because anything that He is or anyway that we classify His characteristics we cannot forget that they are not extensions of His character, they are who He is. This is the doctrine of the simplicity of God.  He is “other” He is “pure” He is the brightness and glory and goodness.  All of these things find their root definition in the character of God – we know what goodness is because we know who God is, for example.

Now Mary is saying that because God is holy, He has used his might to do “great things” for her.

But Mary isn’t simply wrapped up in her blessings.  She isn’t simply singing about herself and her circumstances, but about God and His character.

Ryken rightly looks at this from a practical perspective and says, “Mary did not dwell on her own happy circumstances, but rejoiced in the being and character of God. It is right for us to praise God for what he has done, as Mary did. But sometimes even our worship of God can be somewhat self-centered, as if the really important thing is what God has done for us.  We need to look beyond this to see God as he is in himself, and to praise him for being God.”

            1:50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
            from generation to generation.
 

God is not a God who is mocked or tricked or bribed into showing mercy.  He shows mercy to those who regard Him in a reverent fear – who understand who He is, and who bow before Him in fearful awe.  God does not pour out mercy on those who do not recognize His kingship.

There is also a great comfort in this truth.  I think Ryken captures it well:

Perhaps you are young and poor like Mary. Perhaps you are struggling with sickness or some other physical limitation. Perhaps you are in a low condition spiritually or emotionally. If this is your situation, do not complain that you deserve something better. Do not grasp after a higher position. Do not rage against your misfortune. But humble yourself to the providence of God and recognize your lowly position before him as a sinner. The Bible gives this promise: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10).

             1:51-53 He has shown strength with his arm;
            he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
            he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
            and exalted those of humble estate;
            he has filled the hungry with good things,
            and the rich he has sent away empty.
 

These three verses almost sound like a proverb, but they are anticipatory of a time when God will judge those who are haughty and proud and reward those whose hearts are soft toward Him.

“The heart is seen as the center of feeling (1 Sam. 16:7; Prov. 4:23) and as the base of reasoning power (1 Chron. 29:19; Job 12:3). This pride is deep-seated and reflects their innermost being. God will judge such pride” says Darrell Bock.

God exalts the humble and lays low the proud (Prov. 29:23), but it is a truth proclaimed not only in the proverbs and throughout the OT, but also by Jesus Himself in the gospels, and by His apostles after that (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6).

Jesus says later that, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12 – also Luke 14:11).

Not only this, but the picture of what Jesus would do is to fill the hungry (especially spiritually – the connection is made evident in 11:13) with “good things.”  Later Jesus would feed 5000 men (probably more like 15,000 people total) and shortly thereafter declare that He was “the bread of life” with the exhortation, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:27).

Lastly, He will not allow any to be exalted in kingship above Him. Any who puff themselves up before Him will be brought low – they will be humbled and kicked off their thrones.  A great example of this is when Jesus says to Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

Norval Geldenhuys summarized the message here this way:

The proud, those who exalt themselves and take no account of God, He puts down – beaten by His mighty arm. The powers that be, oppressors who tyrannize the poor and lowly, are deprived of their power and high standing, while those who are truly humble are exalted to great things. The hungry, those who realize their own need and yearn for spiritual food, are blessed. But the right, those who are self-satisfied and proud, are shamed in the imagination of their hearts.

1:54-56 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
 
And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
 

For many years the people of Israel had been suffering under the oppression of other nations – and now it was the Romans. Israel here is described as a servant, and we find a close connection between this terminology and that found in Isaiah’s description of the coming Messiah (Is. 42 etc.).

The people of Israel therefore longed for a day when God’s promises –specifically to Abraham as mentioned here but also to David – would be fulfilled.

What were those promises? The promises to Abraham were for land, seed, and worldwide blessing. This is seen in Genesis 12, 15, 17 and 22:

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” [5] And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” [6] And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:4-6)

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. [5] No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. [6] I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. [7] And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. [8] And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:4-8)

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven [16] and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, [17] I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, [18] and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

Mary knows these promises and has read them. Furthermore, she and all Israel know that a Redeemer is coming to save Israel out of all its distress.  As Bock says, “Mary’s reference looks for the fulfillment of the nation’s hope in Jesus.” That Redeemer is going to do much more than save Israel from the Romans, however.

He will rescue Israel from sin and death and usher in an everlasting kingdom.  He will be the true seed of Abraham, the mighty King of Israel, and will save His people and from every tribe, tongue and nation.

The grounding for Mary’s prophetic annunciation is God’s covenant love and mercy for His people.  He will send a Savior and a loving Shepherd who will care for His flock – unlike the faithless under-shepherds (Ez. 34) who have failed the people over and over.

Ironically this Savior will die in order to save His people from death (Is. 53). The great Shepherd will be struck for the sake of the sheep (Ez. 34), and the true Israel of God will be obedient to the Father in order to achieve perfect obedience for His people. This is detailed in Isaiah especially 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12.

Mary sees the fulfillment of all of these hopes as coming to pass in her child. How can this be?  Paul helps us understand what all this has to do with Jesus – and consequently with us…

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—[14] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.[15] To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. [16] Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. [17] This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. [18] For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. [19] Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. [20] Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. [21] Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. [22] But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. [23] Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. [24] So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. [25] But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, [26] for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. [27] For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. [28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [29] And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:13-29 ESV)

Mary is saying this: we all have been living under the curse of sin and death, but what God began in Abraham with the creation of a new people, He will complete in the work of the Redeemer who in her belly.  The child she was about to have would be the coming king (Ps. 132:11-12) and the suffering servant (Is. 53).  He would bear the sins of His people and would redeem them from the curse of the law (Gal. 3). After His work is completed, all who call upon the name of Jesus will be saved (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13) not through works of righteousness but by faith alone (Eph. 2:1-9).  And for generation to generation the redeemed will look back at the testimony of Mary as both a blessing to her, and a blessing to us, the church.

Mary says that Christ will “help his servant Israel” and fulfill the promise to Abraham of land, seed, and worldwide blessing. “The salvation promises in that (Abrahamic) covenant would be clarified in the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) and would be ratified through the death of the very Child she carried in her womb. For it only through the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ that all the sins of the redeemed – past, present, and future – are atoned for” says John MacArthur.  These promises fulfilled in Christ have redeemed you (Acts 20:28), made you a new creation (2 Cor. 5), transferred you into the family of God as adopted sons and daughters (Rom. 8:12-17, Col. 1:13-14; Hebrews 12), and commissioner you as ambassadors for Christ with a message of salvation and blessing for the nations (Is. 66; Matthew 28:18; 2 Cor. 3 &5; Rev. 5:9, 7:9-12).

In short: “…all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:20).

The Earth Remade and Christian Mission

Sunday I took a departure from the Gospel of John and prepared a devotional for both Sunday AM and Sunday PM that looks at Isaiah 66.  This isn’t a sermon, so its not as lengthy as one might expect my notes to be on this kind of passage, but I hope its an encouragement to you.  If you’re a Christian you can take comfort in a passage like this where your place in the larger scope in God’s redemptive tapestry is evident.  From front to back, the Bible proclaims the centrality of God’s glory and our mission to bring Him glory and worship.  Here is just one more passage that points to these truths.

A New Heavens and a New Earth

Isaiah 66:17-24

Our text comes from the final verses of the book of Isaiah.  This is not meant to be a sermon, but rather a short lesson to stir up your minds to worship God as you leave this place.  The goal of this lesson is to show that from first to last, from Pentateuch to Prophets to Gospels and General Epistles, God’s purposes and plans have not changed.  They are being fulfilled even now in the church, and will be consummated upon Christ’s second coming.  

The context for our passage is that in the final chapters of Isaiah’s writing (particularly 65-66, though the entire section from 40 onward is markedly different than 1-39) we are learning about what will occur during the interim of the Anointed One’s two advents, as well as some things which will occur upon His final return and kingdom consummation…The notion of “kingdom” and “mission” looms heavy here, but the overarching thrust of the passage is that the end and goal of all things is the glory of God.

As we walk through the passage, I want you to notice FIVE points of importance to our discussion this evening:

  1. The centrality of worship and the glory of God
  2. The mission of God’s people
  3. The scope of God’s kingdom and our mission
  4. The justice of God
  5. The renewal of all creation, and revelation of God’s glory

Alec Motyer sums up the passage this way, “…this final section spans the first and second comings of the Lord Jesus Christ: his purpose for the world (18), his means of carrying it out (19-21), the sign set among the nations, the remnant sent to evangelize them (19) and the gathering of his people to ‘Jerusalem’ (20) with Gentiles in full membership (21). Jerusalem is not the literal city but the city of Galatians 4:25-26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelations 21. Exactly so but for Isaiah, not privileged as we with hindsight, it was a vision of staggering proportions.”

First of all, this is a passage that tells us of the purposes of God for His people and all of creation.  Central to those purposes is that God’s glory is His primary concern.  His glory and fame and our worship of Him make up the main theme not only of this passage, but also of all redemptive history.  God desires worship from every tribe tongue and nation (vs. 18-20).  Furthermore, the central end (teleos) of all history is that God will receive glory. In fact, we were created for this end, as was all of creation.  Therefore it makes sense that the mission of His people, and the end goal of all things is, “they shall come and shall see my glory” (vs. 18) and that “all flesh shall come to worship before me” (vs. 23).  This is not an isolated bullet point, but the truth that permeates this entire passage.

The second thing we notice here is the mission of God’s people.  In verse 19 we read that God will “send survivors to the nations” who will “declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations, as an offering to the Lord…” As Peter Gentry says, “This text in Isaiah comes close to the Great Commission in Matthew 28.”  Motyer says this “is the clearest Old Testament statement of the theme of missionary outreach.”  Hundreds of years before the Great Commission, God had already expressed to Isaiah a plan to send us out to the nations as His Ambassadors (2 Corinthians) who would bring back converts to the Lord – literally turning people toward the Lord in repentance in order to bring Him glory.

He does this by setting “a sign among them.”  This sign is likely either meant to be the cross of Christ (Motyer, Gentry), the gospel of Christ, or the Spirit of Christ (Calvin), which indwells all believers. This work, this mission of bringing people back to the Lord will be our “grain offering” to the Lord (vs. 20).  What is likely in mind is the grain offering or the offering of “first fruits” (Motyer), which is appropriate because as James says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18 ESV – see also Rom. 8:23).

In fact Paul says in Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).  So we see why we were created, and now we see the purpose of our mission as well – to spread the good news of the Gospel to people all over the world in order to bring glory to God.  This is our spiritual act of worship, to obey the Lord in the spreading of His glorious message.

The third thing we see is that the scope of the mission is worldwide.  Remember the context of when God is speaking to Isaiah – this is 700+ years prior to the birth of Christ. Going to reach the nations with the message of God’s kingdom wasn’t exactly on the minds of the Jews right now.  If I had to guess, I’d say they were most concerned about fending off the Assyrians from invasion.

This isn’t because the Jews were unaware of the scope of God’s redemptive plan, but rather they simply had forgotten it, or refused to believe it. As Motyer says, “they (the Jews) knew that the promise that was first their unique privilege was destined to be the privilege of all the earth.”Here are two places in the Pentetech where God’s plans for the nations were mentioned:

  • First in Numbers 14:21 God is speaking through Moses and talking about judgement the Jews will receive for disobedience, and almost as a “throw away” line He mentions that one day the entire earth will be “filled with (His) glory!”  That “glory” comes first in the person of Christ, second in the spreading of His gospel, and finally in the consummation of His kingdom.
  • Secondly, God had promised Abraham in Genesis 22:17-18 that He would bless the nations through His seed. “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”  There is a clear tie-in with vs. 20 “your brothers from all the nations” and vs. 22 “your offspring.”  This is a clear reference to the spiritual seed of Abraham – that’s you and me!

Now as we continue to see the worldwide scope of this glory-spreading that we do, we read in verse 19 of a list of cities.  The list is indicative of the worldwide nature of the mission, and the fact that nothing will block the message from achieving its end.  As Alec Motyer says, “The place-names are intended to be impressionistic rather than literal, creating a sense of world outreach.” All the nations will receive this message (vs. 19) and it will cross all bounds of communication, technology, travel method, or means (vs. 20).  As Motyer says, “No distance or difficulty will stand in the way of bringing the brother’s home; every transport will be put under contribution.”

So this plan is expansive in scope, and its blessing will initially be carried to the nations by us, the church, His chosen people who are spreading the message of the gospel of peace.  As John Calvin rightly says of this passage, “The time when he (Abraham) became ‘the father of many nations’ was when God adopted the Gentiles, and joined them to himself by a covenant, that they might follow the faith of Abraham. And thus we see the reason why the Prophet (Isaiah) gives the name of ‘brethren’ of the Jews to us, who formerly were aliens from the Church of God.”

This is clearly articulated by John in his gospel when explaining the prediction of Caiaphas regarding Jesus, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:51-52).

But Isaiah takes it a step further!  Not only will the Gentiles be adopted into the family of God as “brothers”, but in vs. 21 we read that God will take some of them for priests and Levites!  How sacrilegious would this have been to Isaiah’s audience!  And this group of Levites and priests are those saved by the blood of the lamb.  Listen to what Peter says

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

That is your mission to “proclaim the excellencies” of God. Truly “Now Israel as a royal priesthood includes Gentiles; the context puts an emphasis on honor, privilege, absorbing the riches of the nations, and nearness to Yahweh” (Gentry).

The fourth thing we note here is justice and righteousness of God.  God’s reign is like God’s plan for blessing – they both extend to more than simply Jews.  God is the sovereign ruler of all nations and people, and at the consummation of our Lord’s kingdom He will judge every nation and every person ever born on this planet.  He has the right to judge every man and every woman because He is the Creator, but more than that, He judges in perfect righteousness because of His omniscience. 

This is what is assumed by verse 18 when He states, “I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues.”  This verse follows a statement in verse 17, which describes what Jesus would later call “the tares” in the church – the pretenders. Jesus promised that all things that are hidden would eventually be brought into the light (Luke 8:17), and that includes those who “sanctify and purify themselves” (vs. 17) and spend their days in the church, while their hearts are far from God. Here He declares, they “shall come to an end together.”

John Oswalt rightly says, “Those who are depending on mechanical rituals and physical membership in the elect people are not the servants of God about whom Isaiah spoke so eloquently in chapters 41-46. They are nothing more than the rebels who were described with equal eloquence in chapter 1. It is those who gladly keep God’s covenant, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, who are God’s true servants.”

We do not do the judging – we do the worship (vs. 18, vs. 23).  God is the One who does the judging. God is able to judge all men (vs. 24) because He can rightly and righteously judge based on His omniscience.  Calvin says, “The Lord here testifies that he sees and observes their works, and that one day he will actually manifest that none can be concealed from his eyes.” Not only is He omniscient, but because He is perfectly holy, he will rightly judge according to his own character.  The warning is that “there is a cemetery beside the city (of Jerusalem)” (Moyter).  The hope of the gospel message (vs. 19-20) resides alongside the absolute reality of eternal punishment for those who reject this message (vs. 24).

Finally, God will finish the work He began.  Upon this great consummation He will reveal to us His glory (vs. 18) – a glory mediated now through the person of Jesus and His gospel of peace (John 1:14) will one day be manifested for all to see.

We read here that upon His return He will renew the heavens and the earth (vs. 22) – a completely new creation which He began inside you and will consummate physically throughout the entire earth when He comes back.

How do we know He will do this?  Well, as Peter Gentry says, “His name and his offspring are preserved because now God has joined Jews and non-Jews into one family. The new world involves two things: a new place and a new people. Verse 22 shows that both of these are certain because they are in God’s mind; he can actually see them before him.”  His promises are sealed by the trueness of His own character – He sees it, He knows it, therefore it’s a done deal.

Oswalt brilliantly sums up:

God has re-created his world, and sin can never stain it again. The tragedies of the old world, which called into question the very faithfulness of God, are gone. God had promised to Abraham a name and seed, children, but the sin of Israel and the rapacity of the world rulers made it seem as if even God could not keep his promises. Nonetheless, God is greater that human sin and human pride and is able to keep his promises. The old heavens and earth had been called to witness the justice of God in punishing his people (1:2); they had also been called to burst into song over the redemption of those people made possible by the work of the Servant (44:23; 49:13). Now the eternity of the new heavens and earth stands as a testimony to the eternity of God’s promises.

So Jesus is the light to which men are drawn or repulsed in blindness (John 3:19-21), and His gospel message is a glorious message that either blinds or softens.  As Matt Chandler says, “The gospel is such power that it necessitates reaction…The heart of the hearer of the gospel must move, either toward Christ or away from him” (The Explicit Gospel).

Paul tells us, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).  This is the message that is going out to all the nations. But this message, this glory, which is going out to all the nations right now, will be most fully revealed upon the consummation of the kingdom when Christ returns, for as John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

In conclusion, we ought to be encouraged and awed by God’s plan for us and by the scope of His plan for human history, for it far outstrips our own perspective.  Yet the role we as Christians play is enormously important. We are chosen people, priests to God, and are sent on a mission to proclaim the “excellencies” of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light – a light that will one day cover all creation (Num. 14) and transform us into the likeness of His beloved Son (2 Cor. 3:18).  Until that time, we have a “missionary obligation” as a church: “to create a magnetic community” (Motyer) that reflects that glory of Christ and turns people toward the glory of God, and shares a saving message of the hope of the gospel (Motyer), without which those who reject it will perish in eternal fire and torment (vs. 24).

This passage makes clear the linear nature of history to which all things are driving; the urgency of our mission could not be more apparent.

 

Jesus Beats Death

I year or so ago I had the opportunity to teach through John 11 in my sunday school, and recently – this past Monday – I was able to revisit this chapter and spend two hours going through each verse with a lady’s Bible study group at my parent’s home church.  What resulted from this was a rather lengthy exposition of the chapter, but some refreshed notes which I’ve posted below.  My hope is that these notes will be edifying to those who are interested in seeing how this man Jesus had an amazing power during His earthly life.  He was able to do things no man has ever done.  Consequently, many believed in Him.  Still, even His great acts were not enough for some to trust that He was who He claimed to be.

In John 11 this is what happens.  Jesus performs an amazing miracle, and the reaction is quite mixed.  The man who benefits from the miracle has been dead for fully 4 days. The stench of death was likely setting in, and no one ever though of the man coming back to life. Certainly there was a hope for the future – in what Martha terms “the resurrection on the last day”…but what happened next never occurred to anyone present….

John Chapter 11

An Exposition

Introduction

The main thrust of John 11 seems to be two-fold: to show forth the glory and honor of Jesus Christ as the true Son of God, and to show how Lazarus was a type of Christ – remembering that Jesus would soon triumph over the grave to the glory of God in Christ.

Section 1: vs. 1-16 – The Plans of God for the Glory of Christ

Section 2: vs. 17-27 – Abramatic Faith & ‘Ego Eimi’

Section 3: vs. 28-44 – The Sovereign Power of the Son of God

Section 4: vs. 45-57 – Heart of Darkness: The Power of Unbelief

 

Section 1 – The Plans of God for the Glory of Christ

11:1-2 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. [2] It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.

The Bethany mentioned here is not the one across the Jordan. D.A. Carson gives us the background:

This Bethany, lying on the east side of the Mount of Olives less than two miles from Jerusalem along the road to Jericho, has not been mentioned in the Fourth Gospel before, and must be distinguished from the Bethany of 1:28 and that alluded to in 10:40-42. That is why John characterizes it as the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

John’s editorial note in verse two that “it was Mary who anointed the Lord” helps us understand that John is assuming his readers would have heard of this story from the synoptic gospels. It could also be a literary/stylistic devise he is employing to prime the reader for more to come (namely in chapter 12:3).

11:3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

Boice makes a good point that the sisters don’t directly make an appeal to the Lord here for help, though that is almost certainly what their goal was…

I do not think that it is fair to say on this basis that no request was implied. Clearly there was the implication that they would like Jesus to come to their aid, and there was certainly the suggestion that he might help them by healing Lazarus. If this is not implied, there was no point even in sending Christ the message. But at the same time, we cannot miss feeling that when they phrased the report as the did – “Lord, the one you love is sick” – they indicated by the form of it that they were seeking his will rather than theirs in the matter.

I suppose it is also necessary to address the fact that some say that by the way Mary and Martha address Lazarus as the one “loved” by Christ, that Lazarus is perhaps the author of this gospel and not John – there are other times, of course, when the author refers to himself as the “beloved” of the Lord.  But this argument unravels in several ways, not the least of which is that the word “love” here is phileo whereas the word the gospel writer uses to describe the Lord’s affection for him is agape.

Lastly, I think what is instructive about this verse is that the Lord spent His days on earth loving others. This was so apparent that it practically dominates the opening sections of this chapter.  Christ called us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), and to love our neighbor/others (Mark 12:31). He was not a hypocrite in His teaching, He lived out this love – it was this love that motivated His every action and controlled His every move. It was out of love that He was sent to earth in the first place (Eph. 1:5 indicates His will for our adoption as sons).

11:4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

The Meaning of “Glorified”

What does it mean that God would be “glorified” through it?  We see that Jesus is saying that the reason why Lazarus has been sick  (at this point he has not died) is so that “the Son of God may be glorified.”

In Scripture there are at least three different ways/modes God can be glorified (generally speaking). First is in the revealing of His character, second is in the reflection of His character (among His people), and third is in the praises/worship/acknowledgement/agreement of His people (which is essentially His people agreeing with Him that He is praiseworthy, that He is great etc.).

It seems that, usually, we think of giving God glory by praising Him. But in this account I believe that Jesus is almost certainly referring to the revealing of His person/deity and not specifically seeking praise. To put it another way, He is not going to do the miracle so that He can receive praises from men, but rather to show men that He is praiseworthy. It is to provide further revelation of His character and being as the true Son of God.

D.A. Carson comments:

…the raising of Lazarus provides an opportunity for God, in revealing his glory, to glorify his Son, for it is the Father’s express purpose that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father…The Father and the Son are mutually committed to the other’s glory.

Is that not fantastic?! MacArthur also finds this to be the central theme of the text in front of us:

The most important theme in the universe is the glory of God. It is the underlying reason for all God’s works, from the creation of the world, to the redemption of fallen sinners, to the judgment of unbelievers, to the manifestation of His greatness for all eternity in heaven…Everything God created gives Him glory – except fallen angels and fallen men. And even they, in a negative sense, bring Him glory, since He displays His holiness by judging them.

It is this revealing of God’s character through created things, through His plan, and through His Son that we are to focus on here. Specifically, of course, on the revealing of the glory of the Son, which MacArthur says, “blazes in this passage against a dark backdrop of rejection and hatred on the part of the Jewish leaders.”

The great signs (of which this is the 7th and final in John’s gospel) of this book point to the character of Jesus Christ and His true identity as the Son of God. They also provide us with a solid reason for faith in His word and in our future with Him. Likewise, the miracle that we’re about to read of bolstered the faith of the disciples and those who were near Christ. The primary reason for the miracle (to bring glory to God and Christ Jesus) leads to the secondary reason, the bolstering of our faith.

How Lazarus Points Forward to the Pleasure of God in Christ

Certainly one of the most difficult things for us humans to deal with is the truth that God, in His eternal purposes, has allowed, yea even willed, for terrible calamity to befall those whom He loves.  Spurgeon once preached a message on this passage in John and said this:

The love of Jesus does not separate us from the common necessities and infirmities of human life. Men of God are still men. The covenant of grace is not a charter of exemption from consumption, or rheumatism, or asthma.

We see here that God’s purpose was to use the suffering and death of Lazarus to reveal the glory of His Son. And likewise He can use sickness and death in our lives to both refine us (Ps. 119:71), and glorify Himself. His character is certainly made known in many ways through suffering – just think of all the times that men and women who have endured sickness have testified to the great and glorious character of Jesus Christ.

Certainly the most glaring example of suffering and death being used for God’s pleasure is the example of Jesus Christ’s own passion and death.  The story of Lazarus was not included for no reason at all in this gospel. Rather it is put here to point us to Christ, and how Christ ultimately triumphed over the grave.  We’ll talk more about that parallel in the coming texts, but for now I want to see how God was going to be glorified in the death and resurrection of Lazarus, and how He was glorified and even “took pleasure” in the death of His Son (Is. 53:10).  In that Isaiah passage we read:

But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.

It is so difficult to understand how God can possibly have taken pleasure in the “crush(ing)” of His one and only Son. We can see how possibly the Father could be glorified at the end game, but to actually be “pleased” to crush Him…that takes on a whole new difficulty for us.  It’s applicable to what we’re looking at here, because I believe it will show us something of the character of God, and if we can catch a glimpse of that, perhaps we can more rightly appropriate what He is working in our lives through suffering and storms.

John Piper explains this passage in the following ways:

One part of the answer is stressed at the end of verse 10, namely, that God’s pleasure is what the Son accomplished in dying…God’s pleasure is not so much in the suffering of the Son, considered in and of itself, but in the great success of what the Son would accomplish in his suffering.

Piper continues…

The depth of the Son’s suffering was the measure of his love for the Father’s glory. It was the Father’s righteous allegiance to his own name that made recompense for the sin necessary. So when the Son willingly took the suffering of that recompense on himself, every footfall on the way to Calvary echoed through the universe with this message: the glory of God is of infinite value! The glory of God is of infinite value!

…the Father knew that the measure of his Son’s suffering was the depth of his Son’s love for the Father’s glory. And in that love the Father took deepest pleasure.

Scripture supports what Dr. Piper is saying.  Earlier in John’s Gospel we read the following:

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” (John 10:17)

Piper closes his thoughts on the matter this way:

When Jesus died, he glorified the Father’s name and saved his Father’s people. And since the Father has overflowing pleasure in the honor of his name, and since he delights with unbounded joy in the election of a sinful people for himself, how then shall he not delight in the bruising of his Son by which these two magnificent divine joys are reconciled and made one!

I bring this up is because it shows the deeper purposes of God in Christ for you. We see the same thing here with Lazarus, and we see it in our own lives. Just as He took pleasure in bruising His Son, and takes pleasure in allowing you to face difficult trials for both His glory and for your refinement and sanctifications sake.  He does not glory in your pain, but sees past that and rejoices in the glory to be revealed to you – His glory.

11:5-7 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [6] So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. [7] Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

The reason this verse (verse 5) is here is because John wanted to ensure that we understood that Christ’s reasoning in verse four in no way interfered with how we understand verse six.  In other words, it was the love of Christ that compelled him to stay away for another two days, and it was the love of Christ for His Father that motivated His obedience to wait another two days.

Also, it was the love of the Father for us that He allowed Lazarus to get sick because through this He would reveal more of His Son’s glory to His creatures. God reveals Himself to us out of love for us and a desire for us to be ushered into a love relationship with the Trinity as adopted sons and daughters of God.

Specifically, we see in the word “so” at the beginning of verse six, that Christ’s motivation for staying is born out of verse five’s “love” for the Bethany family. This is a bit mind bending, but I think it correlates well with the idea we find in other parts of Scripture that God’s ways are not our ways, and that He does many things that at the time we may not understand.  This could even be discipline or difficulties.

As I was thinking on this passage this week, one of the great passages about love reminded me of Christ’s character here. Take note of 1 Cor. 13:3-7:

Love is patient and kind;

Note the patience of Christ.  He does not rush off to see the family of Lazarus, does not run to comfort them, does not run to perform the miracle. He waits patiently for God’s plan. In His speech to the disciples He is patient and kind.  He abides their foolishness and lack of understanding. He deals with their lack of faith and misunderstanding and selfishness.

love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [5] or rude.

Perhaps this is obvious, but Christ never boasted in Himself but allowed His truthful teaching, His actions and the testimony of others to glorify Him. Instead of being rude, He is sometimes short and to the point.  But this is not rude.  He is never seen interrupting others, but rather He is always putting others first.

It does not insist on its own way;

We might say that Christ was the one person who deserved to insist on His own way, and yet He submitted Himself to the will of the Father.

it is not irritable or resentful;

Christ was omniscient, and yet the human side of Him never was bitter for what He knew in explicit detail would one day be His demise.  He looked around Himself and was constantly surrounded by incompetence, sin, rejections, and idiotic behavior.  He could have said to Himself ‘I am really dying for this?’ but He did not. Such was the nature of His patience and longsuffering.

[6] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Christ was never happy when something horrible happened, but often used difficulties to share the good news of the Kingdom (Luke 13:1-5).

[7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV)

Not only did Christ trust in the will of His Father and in the plan they had formulated from before the creation of the world, but He also looked forward in hope (Heb. 12) so that He was able to endure the torment of the cross.

In these ways and many more, Christ is the suffering servant; He is the very heart of love. That is why John can say that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), because He saw it embodied first hand.

Jesus obeyed the sovereign timing of the Father rather than His emotions.  We know that He was fully human and we know He was emotional (had emotional ties to Martha and Marry and Lazarus) about this situation. But He never allowed His humanity to prevent Him from making absolutely perfect and righteous decisions.  We know His motivation, as discussed earlier, for this was love. He knew the Father’s will; He sought the Father’s mind on all things through prayer.

In our own lives this means that we need to emulate Christ.  We need to ask for His help to change our desires to match His (1 Cor. 2:16).

How many times have you been prevented from getting something, doing something, going somewhere because of situations or circumstances beyond your control?  I’m sure you can look back at times in your life when you wanted so badly to fly here or go there or do this or that but you couldn’t and perhaps as you look back on it now, it was for the better.  Presently, Kate and I would really like to sell our house.  We’d love to move closer to church and to my work. But there are many reasons beyond our understanding that prevent that right now. I do not think that anything is a coincidence or that anything is out of the control and plan of God Almighty.  Therefore I must patiently wait for His plan to unfold even amidst trial. He waited to come to them out of love, remember.

Lastly, and I touched on this a moment ago, in revealing the nature and character of the Son in this moment we also see His sovereignty. The Father has a sovereign plan, and the Son knows that all things are in the hand of the Father – this is illustrated all the more in verse 9.

11:8-10 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” [9] Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. [10] But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

We should recall that the tension between the Jewish religious leadership in Jerusalem and Christ was at a boiling point at this time. The Jews were so angry and threatened by Christ’s ministry that they were seeking to kill Him.

So when Christ says, “let us go to Judea again” we can perhaps understand the nature of the disciples concern…they knew full well the danger of what Jesus was suggesting.

Carson comments on the disciples’ response “they are frankly aghast.” But Christ’s response is to remind them that as long as the Father still have work for Him to do, as long as there is life in Him, He will continue to boldly (and obediently) carry out His mission here on earth.  The specific meaning, therefore, of, “are there not twelve hours in the day” is to remind them that the fullness of the days work (His ministry) had not yet faded.  “These verses metaphorically insist that Jesus is safe as long as he performs his Father’s will. The daylight period of his ministry may be far advanced, but it is wrong to quit before the twelve hours have been filled up” Carson comments.

This certainly reminds of 9:4 where Christ says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”  And 9:5 actually ties nicely in with verse 10 here, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Christ once again uses the situation to remind them of a spiritual truth that He is the light of the world. All goodness, all illumination as far as truth is concerned comes from Him. He is the source of truth and understanding of that truth is also a supernatural gift from God.

Lastly, I am personally reminded of the nature of light and how it sort of symbolizes purity and cleanliness – a sort of antitheses to darkness and sickness. When finally go to be with Christ after this world has been remade and renewed, there will be no sickness and no darkness. In fact, there will be no sun because Jesus will be our only necessary light. Apart from the Son there will be only darkness. These comments foreshadow a truth that is so brilliant and so wonderful that we could linger all day upon their glories.

11:11-15 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” [12] The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” [13] Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. [14] Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, [15] and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

It wasn’t a terribly common thing in second temple culture to use the euphemism “fall asleep” for death, but if we scan the entirety of Scripture we see it is actually a very common phrase/word overall – especially in the books of Kings and Chronicles (examples: 1 Kings 22:40, 50; 2 Kings 8:24, 10:35)

The Patience of the Son

Interesting how Christ had to explain to the disciples, at this sensitive moment, what He meant by His words. I can just see Him now patiently repeating Himself so as to make them understand His meaning, and I wonder how many other times He had to do this same thing. These are the kinds of things that make lesser men frustrated to the point of boiling over with anger. Not Jesus. He is as patient and longsuffering as ever.  What an amazing display of forbearance.

This really puts me to shame. I like to think of myself as a patient man – except, of course, when the kids or the co-workers, or someone (anyone) else has really pressed my nerves or my buttons repeatedly. Only then do I feel like I have an “excuse” to lose my temper.  This, to my own shame, was not the example of Christ.

So that You May Believe

The main thing we should take note of in these verses is that what Christ was doing was for the purposes of bringing glory to God (as mentioned earlier), and the phrase above “so that you may believe” does not modify that purpose or even add to it, but rather it explains more specifically how He will be glorified. These are not two separate items. Believing in the Son glorifies God because it gives proper due to who the Son is, and it magnifies Him.

John wrote this entire book for this purpose (John 20:30-31), and Christ’s entire mission was centered on this fundamental goal.  I hope that anyone reading this now understands that Christianity is all about Christ. He is the center of the Bible and indeed of all human history. Life (of the abundant kind) is about believing in Him, in placing full confidence in His words and surrendering to His leadership and direction.

Christ knew that He was going away soon. He knew that soon His great passion would be upon Him. Before He endured the cross, He wanted to shore up the faith of those disciples who had for so long been following His words and His teaching. He knows that they might not fully understand His words, but He knows that His words will never pass away (Matt. 24:35).  He knew that millions and millions of Christians would read these words and meditate on His character, and bring Him glory.  Remember, He is not speaking to those who do not believe, but rather to those who love Him. But He wants them to have utmost confidence that He is who He says He is, and so that for years to come they would look back on this moment and fall on their faces with thanksgiving in their hearts.

11:16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Duty vs. Joy

Thomas is called “Didymus” in the Greek, which means “twin” – Thomas is Hebrew for “twin” as well…though no one really knows who his twin was.

I think that so often we underestimate Thomas.  This is the same man who we call “Doubting Thomas”, but we see here that there is more to this man than simply cynicism (though that certainly seems to be a dominant characteristic of his nature).  He has a strong courageous streak about him, and the fact that he was willing to die for/with Christ says a lot (even though we see later that, like the other disciples, he deserts Jesus).

Mostly, though Thomas might be brave – and we can admire that in him – he is also following as a rule. It is his duty, one might say. Ridderbos says, “He is certain the to go to Judea means death for them all. Not following Jesus obviously did not occur to him as an option. But his willingness to join Jesus was a matter of accepting the inevitable, clearly without understanding anything of the joy of which Jesus had spoken, to say nothing of being able to share in it.”

Jesus went to the cross because He knew the joy that was set before him (Heb. 12:1-3), but Thomas went (in his mind) to his death because it seemed like the only dutiful thing to do. While I greatly admire Thomas’ bravery and loyalty, I also want us to see that we follow Christ not out of a motivation toward blind duty, but a “duty” that is motivated by the love He has shed abroad in our hearts (a key concept in ch.15), and for the joy that lies before us in eternity.

The Precipice

This also sets in sharp relief once again just how dangerous it would have been for Jesus to go back to the Jerusalem area.  This is the moment in which life and death decisions are being made.  Christ could either stay beyond the Jordan and enjoy a vibrant ministry (10:40-42), or He could fulfill the will of the Father and accomplish His ultimate destiny and mission here on Earth.  He could save His own life, or the lives of countless millions.  Had He been but man, a mere mortal born as all other men, there’s no way we’d be even discussing this right now. The choice would be obvious. No man would put themselves in harms way like this (almost certain death) for the lives of people who weren’t his family. Ironically, Christ did this very thing in order make those who weren’t His family part of His family by sovereign adoption.   

 

Section 2 – Abramatic Faith & ‘Ego Eimi’

11:17-20 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. [18] Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, [19] and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. [20] So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.

It was about a one-day journey from where Jesus was ministering across the Jordan River to Bethany near Jerusalem. If Jesus had heard the news, then waited two days, then taken a day to travel to Bethany, that means that by the time the messenger arrived at Jesus Lazarus would have already been dead. This is important to note simply because we see by this timeline that Christ, knowing all that was going on here, did not kill Lazarus by not coming right away.  It isn’t as though His staying away had any affect on the situation materially. I think that is significant because if nothing else, it shows us once again how Christ in His sovereignty and His obedience to the Father’s plan stayed and waited for a specific reason (which we discussed above) and not to put Lazarus through some struggle unnecessarily or sadistically.

The second thing I want to note here is that Martha is the one who comes running to Jesus when word reaches their home that the Lord is on His way, and is nearing the village.

The reason I think this is significant has to do with what we know from other scriptures about Martha.  Martha was the one who was “busy with much serving”, so busy that she didn’t have time to sit and learn at the feet of Christ.  I don’t want to read more into this than is there, but Martha strikes me as a woman of action.  She is always on the move always doing something, she’s a “type A” personality.  So perhaps its only natural for her to sprint out to see the Lord.

But I think we might safely infer from this passage that Martha’s priorities have shifted from ones that are “busy” and self-centered, to ones that are Christ-centered. The old Martha might have said “I need to stay here and be with my sister.” This Martha realizes the centrality of Christ.  This truth is revealed further in the next few verses…

11:21-22 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [22] But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

As we look at Martha’s response to the presence of our Lord it seems at first blush that she is placing a tremendous amount of faith in Him, and indeed her faith here is a beautiful thing.  She unashamedly states that, in her opinion, if Christ had been with Lazarus, he never would have died.  “Jesus” she reasons “would never have allowed my brother to die.”

She is not scolding Christ for not being there, but neither is she showing the kind of depth of faith that I first confess I saw. I thought I saw an Abrahamic type of faith – a gigantic faith.  But that is not the case as we’ll see later on, for when Christ approaches the tomb and asks that the great stone blocking its entrance be removed, Martha protests that there would be a stench!

Why is this?  Well I think its because it probably never occurred to her that Christ could or would  raise someone from the dead…perhaps her mind never got that far.  It wasn’t that she was full of despair, as we see in verse 22, for she knew that one day her brother would rise in Christ.  But she didn’t yet comprehend the power of the man she knew as Jesus.  She didn’t yet understand that this man Jesus was not just the Messiah sent from God, He was the Author of life.  The Man standing before her was the one who’s words sent cosmos flying into existence.

Abraham’s faith was of another variety altogether.  Look at how the author of Hebrews describes the faith of Abraham:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, [18] of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [19] He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17-19)

You see Abraham understood the nature of God and His will and His power. He was able to grasp the fact that since God controlled both life and death, that God could just as easily raise his son from the dead as he could bring him to life in the womb of a 100-year-old woman.

This is a more informed faith.  It isn’t that Martha’s faith is wrong, it is simply not matured, it simply hasn’t grown into a full-orbed understanding of the character and nature and power of who God in Christ is, and what He is capable of doing.

This, consequently, is why we study theology.  This is why we study the character of God. Because when we face the most extreme circumstances that this life can throw at us, we can do so with a full understanding that the one who walked on the earth and felt our pain and our suffering and our daily irritations is the same One who calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, is the same one who rose from the grave, and is the same one who will one day defeat ALL death and sickness and famine to His own praise and glory.

11:23-24 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” [24] Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Is it not significant that Martha had a better understanding of the resurrection than the Sadducees?  Now it may seem odd to us, who do not have the full picture of the Jewish culture, that Martha would even know such a thing.  But it isn’t a strictly New Testament teaching.  In fact it was common knowledge that there would be a resurrection of the dead on the day of the Lord.  However, as I just mentioned and have mentioned before, the Sadducees were the most secular (if that’s an appropriate word for it) leaders the Jews ever had.  They didn’t believe in the afterlife or in the spiritual realm.

I like how MacArthur points out that Martha seems to have faith that Christ can and will raise her brother on the final day, but doesn’t seem to connect the possibility of Him having the power to raise her brother now. I think there’s something to this.  So often we mentally ascent to God’s power to do this or that, because we’ve read it in the Bible, but we don’t ever think to apply it appropriately to our lives, as if He is somehow neutered of His power 2000 years later.

But this is not the case. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. His power is immutable, as are all His other qualities.

11:25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, [26] and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Here is another one of the great I AM saying of Christ (the 5th one, if you’re keeping track).  This time He says that He is the “resurrection and the life” – this means that Christ raises us from spiritual death to spiritual life!  What a fantastic claim!

This is really a continuation of the New Birth discussion He had before with Nicodemus in chapter 3.  When Christ says that He is the resurrection and the life, He isn’t saying anything new, He is reiterating that life, true life, comes from Him and Him alone.  He has been given all power by the Father to execute His life-saving mission here on earth (see chapter 5).

In this phrase Christ is claiming that, not only does He have the power to raise lost souls from the dead, but He has a plan for them after that – we were saved from something, but also for something.  Consider Ephesians 2:8-10:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

We were saved “for good works” – not simply from death, but for good works.

Truths We Must First Ascent To…

Is there a phrase that more encapsulates the mission of Christ than this? He is the resurrection and the life, and those who believe that will “never die.”  Could He have been any more blunt than this? YOU WILL NEVER DIE.  Let that reality sink in!

There is such power in this phrase and in this truth. But we need to acknowledge a few things first before this truth can be true there are other truths that we have to ascent to:

  1. That we are all dead spiritually
  2. That we cannot, on our own, raise ourselves from this death
  3. That we need and depend on the life-saving life-giving power of Christ to raise us from the dead and that He does this of His own initiative
  4. That Jesus Christ is the sole source of this power – He is claiming exclusivity here. He doesn’t say, “I am a resurrection” He says He is “the” resurrection!

What Everyone Must Wrestle With…

Lastly, look at what Christ says at the end of His great claim – He asks the question: Do you believe this?  This is the one question that every human being will eventually have to wrestle with. There is no one here that has not had to face up to this question.  We need to all ask ourselves at some critical point, “Do I believe this?”  If the answer is “yes” then you know that Christ is your resurrection and your life. What a wonderful feeling and a wonderful knowledge that is.

11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

This so much reminds me of Peter’s great confession when Christ put a similar question to Peter that He just asked Martha.  Here’s how the exchange went:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” [14] And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” [15] He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” [16] Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)

We are told that this is what saving faith looks like.  Paul says this in Romans 10:

…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [10] For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. [11] For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” [12] For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. [13] For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

What is it that Martha is acknowledging here?  A few things…

  1. The Lordship of Jesus Christ – not only over the world and all created things, but over her life
  2. His deity – “you are the Son of God”
  3. That He is the one who can take away sins – He’s the savior of the world (“Christ”)
  4. That He is working out His sovereign plan in the world and in her life and she is surrendered to that plan – “who is coming into the world”

These are the words and component parts of a person whose heart has been miraculously changed by the Holy Sprit.

 

Section 3 – The Sovereign Power of the Son of God

11:28-29 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” [29] And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him.

It is significant to me that her first reaction is to run and find her sister. It reminds me of when the early disciples of Christ ran to find other followers in John 1 (35-51). When someone’s heart is touched by the words of Christ they want to immediately go and tell others of the experience and bring them near to Christ.

The second thing I think is notably here is the reaction of Mary – she “quickly” rose up and went to find Christ. This reminds me of Philip and how he quickly and immediately obeyed the Spirit in Acts 8.  This is a trait of a true follower of Christ.  When we are called to His side, when we are asked to do something, do we obey?  Or do we hesitate?  Do we run to our master, the healer, the Lord?  Or…do we stay in our homes sobbing over a loss or a heartache. Mary, as stunned and hurt as she was by the loss of her brother ran quickly to find Jesus.  May we do the same.

11:30-32 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. [31] When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. [32] Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Mary’s faith responded in an identical way to Martha’s from the earlier verse. She was so confident in the power and Lordship of Jesus Christ that she announced confidently that if He had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died.  “Jesus you are so powerful, so profoundly majestic, so good, so gracious and so loving, that if you had but been here in our presence You could have stopped this tragedy from occurring.”

They were not appealing to some false idea that Christ would have singled out their brother, or that He played favorites. Rather they knew the character of this man Jesus. Jesus practically overflowed with love. He healed so many people that John couldn’t even imagine writing down all the incidents (John 21:25). He was giving, giving, giving His entire life!  All He did was serve – He came to serve Mark 10:45)!

It’s a major clue into how Jesus behaved around others. These women knew the heart of Christ so well, that for them there was no doubt that had He been there, His love would surely have spilled out over their brother. “That’s just who He is”, they probably thought. Their hearts loved His heart.

This explains how we ought to behave – exuding the love of Christ – and how we will be distinguished from the world:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

11:33-37 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. [34] And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” [35] Jesus wept. [36] So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” [37] But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

The response of Jesus comes to us packaged in the shortest sentence in Scripture. John simply says, “Jesus wept.”  But we also read that when Jesus hears what Mary has to say, his spirit is “greatly troubled.”  His “troubled” soul is noted at two different points in this passage.

What does this response mean? There are two primary ways to view this:

  1. He has compassion for his sheep, for His children.
  2. He is sorrowful over the unbelief of the people – as in Luke 19:41-44.

I believe that both views are correct.  Let’s take one at a time…

Compassion for His Sheep

If these verses don’t show you something of the humanity of Christ, then you are not reading the same text I am reading.

Mary is in tears – not simply a small stream of tears, she is weeping. She is weeping for her brother, but also because she has been stirred again emotionally by the presence of Christ. It’s now been several days since her brother died, and Jesus’ appearance has opened the wells of her sorrow, and she bursts forth in tears. The love she has for Jesus, and the painful reality of her loss are intersecting in a mass of emotion that simply cannot be held back.

I believe John recorded this incident for a reason. He knew the impact of these verses. John is concerned to show that Christ Jesus understands our pains, He understands our sorrows. But more than that.  He doesn’t simply understand it – for we could well believe that He understands it being, as He is, a all-wise all-knowing God – but He also empathizes with us.  He enters into our sorrows with us.

We are well familiar with the precious words of Hebrews 4:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Personally, when I look at how the Lord identifies with us, I marvel to myself that we have such a loving God.  A God who could have sat back and ruled the world from on high, but instead who chose to come down to us.  He came down here, and He entered into our toil, our frustrations, and our tears.  He knew what it was to walk on this earth. He knew what it was to lose a loved one.

I love the fact that He has identified with us in our suffering. I love the fact that angels and all God’s elect children can look at the cross and say, “see how He loved them!

More “Trouble” than Meets the Eye…

MacArthur makes a good point about the Greek word used here that is often translated “troubled” is actually more accurately understood as “sternly warned” or “scolding” in terms of the feeling it conveys.  The word is actually embrimaomai, which literally means, “snort like a horse!”  The idea here, as MacArthur says, “includes a connotation of anger, outrage, or indignation.

The Lord was upset on several levels.  The scene is a complex one.  He is not simply in tears for His dear friend and the family of Lazarus, but also for a world whose response to death is not fully defined by the realities of God. Jesus came to usher in a kingdom whose power would forever be emblazoned on the lives of His followers to the point which death would be no match.

And, as we see in verse 37, the reaction of these people to Jesus’ weeping is one of unbelief – not trust and faith. That verse helps us understand why Jesus was so indignant.

The Impending Victory

You see, death here seemed to have the last say, and the attitude of defeat among the mourners smacked of Satan. It showed off his blinding power that these people would have no hope in the reality of glorious nature of the world to come. Christ came to change all of that. And when He saw the people mourning with no hope for tomorrow, He was indignant. This is why His raising Lazarus from the tomb was a major sign (A major wake up call to Satan also) of the ushering in of His kingdom – this was the warning shot across the bow of Satan. He’d be put on notice that His defeat was imminent. Satan’s days are numbered, for the Prince of Life is here, and He will allow no more deception about the truth of God’s plan for eternity.

Consequently, that’s why He was so poignant in His remarks about eternity earlier. An important part of the gospel is the hope for eternity with God. (We saw the contrast for example between the hope of Christ in the joy to come, and Thomas’ duty-bound devotion in verse 16). There is the hope of forgiveness now on earth, of course, and of forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness imputed to us – which we will hear from God’s mouth on that Day of Judgment. But more than that, there is this beautiful hope of eternity with the Lover of our soul. And that’s what this is about. This is about Christ setting the record straight. It’s about Him giving us a preview of the rest of our lives.

Perhaps that’s what is so beautiful about this chapter.  Jesus gives us a preview of what the consummation of His mission will look like when He comes back. The sadness we endure now is like that of Mary and Martha. We weep because we are dying and we live in a dying world. We have loved ones with cancer. We have children who are sick. We have pains and ills and death all around us. So did Christ. So that will make the victory all that much more sweeter when we enter into His presence and He banishes death and sickness once and for all!  That is why we say: “Come Lord Jesus! Come!”

11:38-40 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. [39] Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” [40] Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Here we see that once again Christ is “moved” again, and it’s no wonder given the nature of the response from those in the mourning party (he is filled with a righteous indignation as the Greek clearly implies…again, the English translations are all incorrect).

Martha’s response to Christ’s instruction is one of unbelief – this is what tempers us from having been led to believe she had the kind of faith that Abraham had (see above).

SIDE NOTE: D.A. Carson talks about how some of the Jews thought (superstitiously) that the soul of a body hovers above the body for three days prior to finally departing. So waiting four days to raise Lazarus from the dead would have crushed their superstitions. I love how Christ’s perfect timing crushes our doubt and shows us that He alone holds the keys to truth and life.

The Revelation of His Glory and how it Transforms Us

We see in Christ’s response to Martha that He isn’t concerned about the odor of Lazarus, He’s more concerned with the revelation of His glory.

This revelation of His glory is the key – and as I mentioned before, Martha is not going to see the glory of Christ in the way that the disciples did on the Mount of Transfiguration, but rather she will see His revealed character, power, and person pouring out through His majestic work of resurrection.

I want to add some thoughts about the practical purposes of understanding this concept of Christ’s glory and what it has to do with us.

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 we read the following:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [18] And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We see here that there is a transformational effect from simply “beholding the glory of the Lord.”  John explains in his epistles that:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

So there is this connection again between us being transformed, and us beholding Him in His glory.

For the longest time I didn’t understand exactly how this worked. What is the connection here between us becoming like Him and us beholding Him?  It’s hard to read 1 John and really put your finger on how that will happen – but we can look to how it happens in inches during our lifetimes here on earth – and that’s exactly the purpose of what Paul was writing in 2 Corinthians, and why Christ came to raise Lazarus from the grave in John 11.

How is it that we behold His glory here?  We behold His glory because we see His revealed character in His actions and words, and the Holy Spirit uses this Scripture to touch and transform our hearts.  This is a supernatural thing. This is why we can’t “earn” our way to heaven because we can’t make ourselves righteous!  Our doing is our beholding.  And we behold by reading, by praying, and by asking for Him to change us into the image of Christ, which He is gradually doing.

This is the nitty-gritty of sanctification, and its also why reading the Bible and meditating on Christ’s actions here and every word that proceeds from His mouth, is so important.  That’s consequently why I teach expositionally!  I want you to be changed into the likeness and image of Christ. He’s using this Word to do that.  He’s using John 11 to do that, so I want you to take in as much of it as possible, knowing not only that He is using it to gradually melt away the dross of this life, but that one day (as we wait in faithful hope – see Rom. 8) He will radically finish the job simply by the great revelation of His character and person

11:41-42 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. [42] I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Carson points out that this was not a public prayer meant to “play to the gallery” but rather He sought to “draw His hearers into the intimacy of Jesus’ own relationship with the Father” and “demonstrates the truth that Jesus does nothing by Himself, but is totally dependent on and obedient to His Father’s will.”

There are a few parallels between this prayer and the High Priestly prayer in chapter 17, but the one that stood out to me the most was how the Father and Son had already been (obviously) in previous communion.  It seems that they had already agreed upon raising Lazarus, and that now Christ is thanking God the Father for “hearing” Him and for granting this miracle so that He may be glorified that people might believe.

Every time we hear Christ pray, or instruct us in prayer, we ought to pay close attention.  For this is His insight and instruction as to how to communicate with God, of whom He is One with the other two persons of the Godhead.  Surely He knows more than anyone how to speak with His Father.

11:43-44 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” [44] The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

There are several key points that we see here.

First, the “divine imperative”, as Augustine termed the creation of the world, is seen here in Christ’s powerful control over the life and death of His creatures.  We see that not only is this man the Messiah whose long awaited and desired coming had finally arrived, but he is the very Son of God who called creation into existence millennia prior to this moment.

Second, Lazarus’ rising from the dead was a sign of greater resurrection to come, especially that of Christ’s resurrection which was now only a short time away, and of course of our own resurrections once Christ comes again.  And it was also a sign that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Earlier in chapter five, Christ said this:

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. (John 5:36)

Third, the power of Christ is on full display in this amazing moment. D.A. Carson notes how some theologians remark that this power seemed to be so awful (awe-inspiring) that had He not specified the name of “Lazarus” that all dead people everywhere would have had to obey His fiat. This is a clear example of Christ calling us from the dead, and the irresistible nature of that call. His grace is so powerful and so effective, that when He calls you, He will not fail in His mission to bring you all the way from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

Lastly, as Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, it was a clear indication that the kingdom of God was upon them. Christ was ushering in His spiritual kingdom in a way that no man could deny. George Ladd once said that, “…the Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among men, and that this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver men from it’s power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.”

 

Section 4 – Heart of Darkness: The Power of Unbelief

11:45-48 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, [46] but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. [47] So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. [48] If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

The Power of Unbelief

The reaction to the miracles of Christ is always of interest to me. It amazes me that some who were eyewitnesses of people being healed, and others, like Lazarus, being raised from the dead can cause such different reactions.

Morris comments, “The result of the miracle, as always, is division. Because Jesus is who and he is he inevitably divides people.”

Specifically, it is interesting that some people ran to the Pharisees…Carson says, “One might charitably hope that the motive of at least some of them was to win the Pharisees to the truth, but the contrast set up between those who believe and those who go to the Pharisees suggest that their intent was more malicious.”

Ryle says that these people who ran to the Pharisees had been hardened in heart, “Instead of being softened and convinced, they were hardened and enraged. They were vexed to see even more unanswerable proofs that Jesus was the Christ, and irritated to feel that their own unbelief was more than ever inexcusable.”

This only serves to reiterate the tension Christ was causing within the Jewish establishment, and show forth that miracles alone are not able to soften a man’s heart, “the plain truth is, that man’s unbelief is a far more deeply seated disease than it is generally reckoned” says Ryle.

Only the sovereign grace of God will melt these hearts of stone.

It’s emblematic of the kind of thinking we find in the Jewish leadership of the day that fear governed their thoughts.  And when fear governs your thinking, it’s very difficult to make wise discerning decisions (spiritual or otherwise).

For instance, here they make the false assumption that if Jesus would have continued His ministry that “everyone (would) believe in him.”  This is simply not the case – for even those who saw and witnessed His miracles, including this one, first hand did not believe Jesus was the Messiah.

In fact, if the council knew the miracles were authentic (which it seems that they did) they ought to have followed Jesus.  It wasn’t enough to say “these are the miracles of Pharaoh’s magicians”, but the very reason that the men in vs. 46 came to the Council in the first place was due to the overwhelming evidence before them.  I cannot believe that at this point, for these men, there was much doubt as to the veracity of the miracle(s); the issue was what to do about it. Their murderous response reveals the wickedness of the hearts of these men, and confirms that they were of their Father the Devil (see chapter 8, and Gen. 3:15).

The truth is that unless God does a supernatural work in your heart you will always be dead in your sin and will always rebel against God.  Earlier in John we read Jesus’ words to Nicodemus:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Another example of this is found in Acts 8 where we read the case of Simon Magus who was amazed by the miracles being wrought by the disciples of Jesus – so he “believed” in Jesus. But seeing and intellectually assenting to the reality of God’s power doesn’t make you a child of God. What is missing?  The heart change that only comes by new birth.  Only the Holy Spirit can effect that change in a man’s heart.

Ryle says, “The amazing wickedness of human nature is strikingly illustrated in this verse. There is no greater mistake than to suppose that seeing miracles will necessarily convert souls. Here is a plan proof that it does not.”

Political Problems

Once the Jews learn of this latest miracle, their main concern seems to be a political one.  They said, “The Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  They were concerned that the Roman leadership would be disturbed by the commotion of the Jewish citizenry and the potential consolidation of power behind a rebel leader (namely Jesus).  If the Romans, they calculated, thought that there was an uprising among the people, they would move to squash it immediately – perhaps even scatter the Jews and drive them from the land in order to save them the headache of dealing with them as a nation.

What is amazing here, and Sinclair Ferguson talks about this a little, is that we see the Pharisees and Sadducees saying what are “we” going to do about this.  This indicates to us the outlook of the Council’s situation, that even these two groups that hated each other felt the need to work together on this. “They felt like they had to crucify Jesus in order to keep their place in society” Ferguson pointedly states.

11:49-53 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. [50] Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” [51] He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, [52] and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. [53] So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

The opening blast from Caiaphas is (according to Carson) the ancient equivalent of saying “You don’t know what you are talking about!”  Both Carson and MacArthur note how rude this is and Carson is funny here:

“Even so, it is certainly not a reflection of the Dale Carnegie school of diplomacy, and it nicely confirms the judgment of Josephus that the Sadducees were barbarous and wild even toward those of their own party…”

But as Caiaphas gets their attention, he continues on with an idea that is devious and characteristic of his political acumen (he lasted 18 years as high priest which was quite a feet during that time – was deposed at the same time as Pontius Pilate in AD 36).  But what Caiaphas meant to say, and what God used Caiaphas to say here were obviously two different things, and perhaps a little more than irony.

Caiaphas was more astute politically than those around him, and what he was trying to explain here was that if they (the Jewish leadership) played their cards right, they could sacrifice Jesus on the alter of politics and have for themselves a scapegoat to be able to show to the Romans – as if to say to them “hey this man is the one responsible for all the hubbub around Jerusalem, if you get rid of him we’ll all be a lot better off and you won’t have to worry about anyone causing disruptions.” In this way Caiaphas figured he could satiate the Roman authorities growing unrest with the disruptions among the Jewish people.

As Sproul points out though, Caiaphas must have forgotten Proverbs 17:15, which says, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”

Caiaphas’ cold political reasoning seemed shrewd – the ends justified the means. But what Caiaphas didn’t realize (in his “unconscious prophecy” as Morris aptly puts it) is that it was indeed expedient for one man to die for the nation – a scapegoat covered not with the political excuses of sinful men, but with the weight of their sins upon Him.  For as Paul tells us:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—[13] for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. [14] Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. [15] But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. [16] And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. [17] For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. [18] Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. [19] For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. [20] Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, [21] so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21 ESV)

It is amazing how God uses the mouths of even the ungodly, or those whom ought to seemingly be uninvolved in the fate of God’s people, to proclaim the great plan He has for His people. His sovereignty led even a pagan king to bring the Jewish people out of exile several hundred years earlier.  Listen to what God put in the mouth of Cyrus:

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: [23] “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.’” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23 ESV)

Furthermore, God’s plans were bigger than just the Jewish nation, for John tells us, “not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”  That is to say that it was God’s plan that through the death of Jesus the promise of Abraham might be fulfilled:

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. [5] No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. [6] I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. [7] And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. [8] And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:4-8 ESV)

 And…

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven [16] and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, [17] I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, [18] and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”(Genesis 22:15-18)

Therefore God used His Son Jesus Christ to die for the sins of His people – His chosen people, a holy nation, a people called after His own name. And in so doing He was not simply dying for a Jewish people, but for a people He had chosen from the foundation of the world.  He was going to use His disciples to proclaim this gospel of peace to all the nations in order that He might “gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

This process of spreading the gospel and blessing the nations through the spread of the gospel is the same as gathering into one the children of God, because when a person believes in Christ they are united with Christ and are adopted into His family. Sproul says, “It was a blessing that Jesus died, because His death was necessary for the salvation, not only of Jews, but of the elect of the whole world.”

Resorting to Death

It is emblematic of the hand of Satan on these men that their best plan is to find a way to put Jesus to death. For that is the way of Satan.  When all else fails, kill the person who stands in his way.

Make no mistake, Satan desire nothing more than to kill you (Gen. 3:15 speaks of enmity between us and Satan), though his spiritual power is significantly limited now that the gospel has been unleashed upon the nations, he still rules this world.  John tells us of this later:

…and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. (Revelation 20:3 ESV)

Therefore, because he no longer has the power of the last word spiritually, he will do everything he can to make your life miserable and ultimately rejoices in your death – for that is all he has left.  It is a testament to the grace and power of God that we are protected from the wiles of the Devil and that is why your prayers of intercession for each other are so crucial, for God works through your prayers to thwart the enemy.

11:54-57 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples. [55] Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. [56] They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” [57] Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.

John MacArthur tells us that Ephraim “was located about four miles northeast of Bethel on the edge of the wilderness, and about a dozen miles from Jerusalem.”

The people prepared for the Passover, and many wondered if there’d be anymore drama – they were looking for the fireworks, they didn’t truly care about Jesus for just a short time later they would shout for His crucifixion.

So Jesus withdrew for a time in order to prepare for the final chapter in His ministry, where He would once again enter Jerusalem, this time for the last time before His grand passion that would serve as the atoning sacrifice for millions and millions of His followers for generations to come, effectively changing the world forever.

Conclusion

This 11th chapter of John’s gospel reveals to us the power and glory of Jesus Christ.  It shows us His deity, His majesty, His obedience to the Father and His love for us.  It also shows that Jesus has power over the grave – and the same Christ who raised Lazarus from the snares of death has also raised us to walk in newness of life, has given us His Spirit as a powerful guarantee of His love, and will one day consummate His union with us by raising our bodies to be glorified in everlasting service to their great Bridegroom.

John 1-11: An Overview

Well tomorrow morning my Sunday School class will be diving back into the book of John.  But before we dive headlong into where we left off 3 months ago, I wanted to provide a few notes by way of an overview of the first 11 chapters.  By no means are these comprehensive, but rather they express the key ideas from the first half of John’s gospel.  I hope they prove helpful – please note that they are my notes and not meant to be much more than an outline with some thoughts, so if I’ve erred in grammar or spelling feel free to chuckle and continue on!  (:

The Gospel of John: An overview of the first 11 chapters

Chapter 1

The Prologue

John begins his gospel by describing the eternality of the Second Person of the Godhead, and by stating in no uncertain terms that Jesus is that Person.  Jesus is the Messiah, He is the Christ, and the Word of God incarnate.  By Him and through Him and for Him are all things created and made that have been made.

Verse 14 says: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The very word that called all being into being has condescended into His created being with the mission of inaugurating a new creation within His chosen ones in order that they would fulfill that for which He originally created them: the bear His image, to rule over all creation, and to bring Him glory and joy (Jn. 10:10).

The Calling of the Disciples and the Angus Dei

John the Baptist’s mission is described here, as well as his relation to the Christ, “he whose comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (vs. 27).

When John saw Jesus coming toward him the next day he proclaimed “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”  This is what is known as the “Angus Dei” (Latin for the Lamb of God), and by stating this John is saying that Jesus has come to die for the sins of His people – a people not limited to ethnic Israel, but rather from all nations and ethnicities (“the world”).

After this, Jesus called His disciples – and John makes special mention of the calling of Nathanael “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael marveled at the knowledge of Christ – supernatural knowledge that only God could know.  Yet Jesus surprised him further and invoked the image of Jacob’s ladder by stating, “truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (vs. 51).

Chapter 2

The Miracle at Cana – Water to Wine

Jesus’ ministry opens in this gospel not with a description of His desert temptation, but with a miracle at a wedding feast.  John’s intentions in his gospel are set forth near the end of his gospel:

…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

Therefore, John sets forth 7 signs and 7 discourses throughout his book to show forth the deity of Christ and make the case that we ought to believe, and by believing “have life in his name.” Each sign points to something greater than itself (hence the name “sign” used by John as opposed to “miracle”).

At the wedding feast Jesus scandalizes our traditional thinking about wine, and what is “necessary.”  For He didn’t come to simply heal some people, but rather to give life and that more abundantly.  The wine He made was good wine, and it was abundantly served to a group of people who were already likely a bit tipsy.  The point is that the wine Christ has come to give overflows, as does His grace.  It is the best kind of wine, it is rich and full and deep and never ending. His wine is the new wine of the gospel and it makes the heart glad!

The First Temple Cleansing and Christ’s knowledge

One of the first things Christ did was enter into the temple at Jerusalem and drive out the corrupt businessmen who had been charging ridiculously high interest rates.  This was done in a premeditated way (vs. 15 states that He made a whip of cords which would have taken some time).  This wasn’t an uncontrollable anger, it was a righteous anger.

In this act of cleansing, He signified the importance of the temple as the house of God, and pointed to Himself as the greater fulfillment of the temple:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” [19] Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he was speaking about the temple of his body. (John 2:18-21)

After this John tells us that when He was teaching in Jerusalem many started to believe in Him, but that Christ didn’t “entrust himself” to any man.  The reason?  Because He knew what was in man.  Christ knew the nature of man; He knew his depravity and his deceit.  He didn’t entrust Himself or His mission to others but took upon Himself the entirety of the mission and trusted in the will of the Father alone.

Chapter 3

Nicodemus and Being Born Again

Perhaps one of the most important passages in Scripture is found in the first parts of the third chapter of John.  A ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus comes to Jesus in secret at nighttime and begins to ask Him what he needs to do to be saved. Jesus gives a seemingly enigmatic answer:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

What He meant was this: you cannot by the work of your own hands, or deeds be admitted into the kingdom of God.  You must be born again of the Spirit. The Spirit must quicken your soul to life before you can “see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus also sets forth the sovereignty of God in salvation:

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.” (John 3:8)

In other words, it is God who chooses who is saved, and you cannot control this, but rather you must obey the Spirit and submit to the work of God, for He is sovereign and His ways are not our ways. The conversation ended with a rebuke of Nicodemus, who though he was a teacher of Israel did not understand these things. The implication is that as a teacher of Israel and one familiar with the Scriptures, he should have been able to put two and two together. Therefore condemnation would indeed have been just.

Moses’ Serpent, and the Love of God

Christ tells Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be “lifted up” as Moses “lifted up the serpent in the wilderness” – this is a reference to a time in Israel’s history when they were dying in droves of poisonous snake bites in the wilderness. Moses was instructed by God to set upon a poll a bronzed serpent, and whoever looked upon the serpent would be healed. Of course the implication here is that by looking to the cross and the work of Christ alone we are saved.  There was nothing the Israelites had to do other than look and have faith and God would heal them.  They simply had to obey and believe – now the implication is that some did not even do this. It seems so easy, so simple.  Trust and obey.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (vs. 15 says “whoever believes in him may have eternal life). But because of man’s depravity we still protest and refuse the great gift.

Jesus goes on to explain that God’s love has been made manifest to the entire world in His Son, and that because of this manifestation the entire world stands under condemnation. How many of us are familiar with verse 16 but stop without reading 19-21? Listen to these important verses:

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.” (John 3:19-21)

The chapter ends with John’s description of John the Baptist’s desire to see Christ’s ministry set above his own and we read the famous words, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The reason the Baptist wants to decrease if for his own joy.  For he remarks:

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. (John 3:29)

There was no improper pride in John the Baptist, his joy was completely in Christ, and he reveled in the glory of his own humility before the Son of God. He counted himself nothing before the ministry of Christ.

Lastly, John sets the stage for further arguments about the authority of Christ by stating:

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. (John 3:31-36)

Chapter 4

The Samaritan Women and the Official’s Son

Most of chapter four is spent describing the scene of Christ at the well with a woman of Samaria.  We find here in this encounter that Christ has a divine knowledge that surprises the woman, and that He is the bearer of eternal life, a theme which John weaves throughout the book.  Listen to what Christ says to this woman:

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, [14] but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

The woman doesn’t understand this saying at first, but Christ is so gracious and so condescending that He reveals to this Samaritan woman more than He does to the leader of the Jews. He tells her no parable, but give her a beautiful description of His person and gift:

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.” (John 4:25-26)

Furthermore, He reveals to her something we ought to note, namely that in His coming there was a change in paradigm. He came to usher in a new covenant, and with it a change in the nature and even geography of worship.

“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.” (John 4:23-24)

Here is where so-called “temple theology” comes to the fore. We need to understand that there is a certain amount of discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament we see a central place of worship, God dwells with man but it is in a temple in the Holy of Holies. Now, the greater manifestation of the Temple has come, and when He ascends to heaven He will send His Spirit to indwell His children thereby making His dwelling with men, and transforming us into His temples.  No longer do we need a temple to gather close to God, for His dwells in each of us, just as Jeremiah predicted.

Lastly, in going to the Samaritans Christ is showing that salvation has come to all men, not simply to the Jews, and in this crucial way God’s covenant with Abraham is going to be fulfilled:

I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, [18] and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:17-18)

And what is perhaps most amazing to me about this is the call of Christ for us to enter into His work, for He states:

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.” (John 4:35-38)

Therefore John has laid forth both the sovereignty of God in salvation (chapter 3) and now the privilege of entering into His work as His hands and feet to take the gospel to the field which are white for the harvest.

The chapter ends with John telling of how Christ healed the son of an official – the second of the signs that John describes in his gospel. The key to this sign is understanding that it was these miracles that were confirming the word of Christ. The miracles in and of themselves were only a way to point people to the person and word of Christ, and that is why John notes that the miracle led to belief in the household of the official (vs. 53).

Chapter 5

The Healing at Bethesda on the Sabbath

By this time in John’s gospel we have seen how the signs that Christ is doing point to a larger significance about who He is and what He has come to do. In a similar way, Jesus has been showing how Old Testament traditions, laws, and even buildings such as the temple, point to Him.  Thus Christ is the great fulfillment of what was only previously seen in shadow.  The way Paul sums this up in 2 Corinthians is worth noting:

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Now we find that as Christ heals a man who was both blind and paralyzed the Jewish leaders become incensed. Why? Because He healed on the Sabbath (vs. 16). They are not happy for the healed man, and have no joy over the work of God.  Christ’s healing on the Sabbath was meant to point to two great realities:

  1. He was/is the fulfillment of the Sabbath.
  2. He is Lord of the Sabbath

The former is a matter of typology, and the latter of authority.

About the fulfillment of the Sabbath, the author of Hebrews says, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his (Hebrews 4:8-10).” And Paul says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord” (Rom. 14:5-6a).

Concerning the authority of Christ, John focuses on this for the remainder of the chapter, and he shows that the Jewish authorities were also focused on this point – for they saw that Christ was making Himself equal with God” (vs. 18).

In this chapter, Christ sought to show that His authority came directly from God, and that the prophets pointed toward Him (vs. 46-47). A few key passages are as follows:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. [20] For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. [21] For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. (John 5:19-21 ESV)

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. [31] If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. [32] There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. (John 5:30-32 ESV)

But more than just describing the authority He had from God, Jesus also described how He had authority in himself granted by the Father simply because of who He was:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. [26] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (John 5:25-26 ESV)

This is an amazing statement of power.  Christ had been given the power to grant life, and the power to deal out judgment leading to death. Is there a greater authority in the universe as we know it?  No indeed.

Lastly, the blindness and depravity of man is set forth by Christ as the reason for their mishandling of His ministry:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, [40] yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. [41] I do not receive glory from people. [42] But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. [43] I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. [44] How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? [45] Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. [46] For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. [47] But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:39-47)

They cannot believe because they seek their own glory and have not the Spirit of God within them.  I don’t think He could have made the case any more plain to these puffed up men.

Chapter 6

Jesus Feeds the 5000 and Walks on Water

The 4th and 5th signs are performed by Christ in the first part of chapter 6 which boasts of some of the most difficult and profound doctrine we have encountered thus far.  First, we learn that the Passover is once again at hand (vs. 4 – probably the 2nd of 3 Passover feasts that mark His ministry) and thousands of men and women and children have been following Him to hear His teaching. This is perhaps one of the pinnacles of His ministry as far as shear mass of following is concerned, but as we’ll see soon, by the end of chapter 6 many of these people will fall away because they cannot stomach the difficult doctrine of predestination and God’s sovereignty.

When Christ feeds the 5000 here, there is a beautiful sense in which once again His bounty and overflowing grace is on display. We also see that He doesn’t want any of the food to be lost (vs. 12), perhaps pointing toward His own power of preservation for those who have been saved. After the miracle is finished, the people are so enraptured by His power that they move to take Him by force and make Him their king. He alludes them, however, and goes up onto a mountain by himself – a picture of what we ought to do when the world tries to force its will upon us, we need to flee to the mountain or the quiet place and commune with God, taking safety in the cleft of His might.

After the feeding of the masses Christ’s disciples have gotten into a boat and are attempting to cross over to Capernaum. But the sea, which often becomes tempestuous due to its geography, became enraged and made the crossing very difficult. It is then that John describes Christ’s coming to them – but not on a boat or another vessel – rather, He has come to them by walking on the very surface of what is not a surface at all: He is walking on water. It is worth noting that the reaction of the disciples is one of fear (vs. 19).  They were perhaps more frightened by the sight of Christ walking on water than of the prospect of losing their lives in the storm.

After Christ comes to them, the boat immediately finds itself on the opposite side of the water. His words are telling “It is I; do not be afraid.”  When Christ is with us, all objects of fear melt in the face of His calming power.  Indeed, the God incarnate was the only object worth of their “fear”, and He was the one ministering to their souls, and bringing them safely (if not instantly) across the sea.

The Bread of Life and a Hard Saying

In this difficult discourse, Jesus shows men for who they really are, and sets forth a doctrine that is most difficult – the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation. Let’s look at how the chapter unfolds in a few succinct bullets:

The Nature of Man: People come seeking Jesus but really only seeking his bread – we seek after the things he can give us but not himself (vs. 26). We want the benefits of God. But no one seeks after God himself (Rom. 3:11-12).

Faith Alone: How do we do the works of God? This is the work of God, to believe in him whom he has sent. (vs. 28-29) This passage shows faith alone apart from works is what leads to salvation.

The Claims of Christ and Eternal Life: I am the bread of life (vs. 35) – whoever comes to me shall never hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Assurance: All who believe in Christ are those whom the Father gives to Jesus, and these people He doesn’t cast out (vs. 37-40) and will raise up on the last day. What a powerful statement! We can lean on His power to keep us until the end.

Sovereignty: Christ proclaims now that no one can believe – or “come to Jesus” – unless the Father draws him! (vs. 44-46) Therefore, God is the sovereign initiator of the drawing of men to Christ and therefore salvation.

The Response: The disciples say, “This is a hard saying!” (vs. 60) Not because it is tough to understand, but because it is tough to swallow. But Christ responds and says that the flesh will not help them understand the things of the Spirit (vs. 63).  Then in verse 65 Jesus says that it is the Spirit who gives help in coming to the Father.  Therefore we see that the role of the Spirit is being set forth here: it is the Holy Spirit who brings us into newness of life and draws us to the Father.

The Result: The people can’t stomach His doctrine, just as they can’t stomach it today!  How dare He impinge upon the freedom of mankind to make their own choices without aid from God! So they leave Him: “After this many of disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (vs. 66). But the disciples stayed with Christ, but even in this Jesus exalted His own work in them (“did I not choose you, the twelve?” vs. 70).

Chapter 7

The chapter opens with Jesus being rejected by his brothers (vs. 5), and ends with Him declaring himself to be the bearer of “living water.” Chapter 7 is the first of three chapters whose background is the Feast of the Tabernacles, and this is the final fall feast before the last 6 months or so of Christ’s earthly ministry.

The progression of events once Christ goes up to the feast is as follows:

He speaks with divine knowledge even though He’s never been formally trained – people marvel at this (vs. 15)

He once again asserts His authority, and claims that His teaching is from the Father (vs. 16-18)

The Sabbath question comes up again and Jesus uses the rite of circumcision as an example of “lawful” work that takes place on the Sabbath as a way to show their lack of understanding of (and lack of ability to keep) the law. (vs. 19-24)

The reaction in Jerusalem is mixed – but all are fearful of speaking outwardly about Him – such is the tension in the city over this man from Galilee (vs. 13). People even begin to declare that He is the Messiah (vs. 31).

Christ begins teaching about half-way through the feast, and due to the response of the people, the Pharisees issue an arrest warrant but are unable to apprehend Him (vs. 32, 45-49) due to the power of Christ’s speech (vs. 46), the sway of the populace (vs. 43-44), and the sovereignty of His timing (vs. 30).

The chapter ends with an interesting vignette of Nicodemus discussing the matter of Christ before others on the council, and their rejection of all justice or lawfulness indicates that the spirit of lawlessness has completely taken hold of the religious leaders of the day (vs. 50-52).

Chapter 8

The Woman Caught in Adultery

John now takes us to an incident that presumably occurs during the feast, where a young woman has been brought before Jesus as a way of testing His teaching and knowledge of the law. The woman has been caught in adultery, but given the circumstances it seems likely that this is a vile and reprehensible setup that the religious leaders have used in order to take Jesus down (see James M. Boice’s excellent commentary on the passage).

Christ’s response to the circumstance is one we’re familiar with: “let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  It is an amazing rebuke of the crowds.  So often we are hungry to judge others – we want justice until it comes to our own sentence, then we want mercy!

The Light of the World and the Freedom of Christ

Christ began again to teach in the temple and proclaimed that He was the “light of the world” – He used the metaphor of light and darkness to draw people to Himself, and show them what kind of life he came to impart to them.

It was here also that Christ taught about the freedom He offered to all who believed:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. [35] The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-36)

Paul also expounded on this:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)

The Sonship of Christ, and the Children of the Devil

One of the key concepts of Chapter 8 is the Sonship of Christ. He begins to explain this to the leaders and other listening in verse 19:

“They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (John 8:19)

He is claiming to be the very Son of God – a bold and clear statement of deity.

Another key concept from this chapter is that there are only two kinds of people: sons of God and sons of Satan.  You are either under the power of the Devil and a pawn in his control, or you have been born again and adopted into the family of God, having Christ as your brother.

These statements irked the Pharisees who thought of Abraham as their father, but when Christ explained to them that they were not sons of Abraham, they winced and desired to kill Him.

Once again Christ was explaining what it meant to be a true son of Abraham.  Paul explains this to the Galatians:

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7)

What had merely been a physical promise to Abraham of blessings of land, children, and blessing the nations was now being realized in a spiritual way. This angered the Pharisees to no end as I mentioned above, and the resulting conversation ensued:

Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” [52] The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ [53] Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” [54] Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ [55] But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. [56] Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” [57] So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” [59] So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:51-59)

These are just excerpts of one of the most intense and important conversations that Jesus had amongst the people during the feast.

Chapter 9

The Man Born Blind

This chapter centers on an amazing miracle (the 6th one of the 7 major signs) of healing to a man who was born blind. Like Job’s friends, the disciples saw the man and naturally thought that he or his parents had committed a sin in order for him to wind up in such a state. But Christ corrects their misunderstanding, and adds to it a level of profundity that places the will and prerogative of God above our understanding:

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:3)

Indeed it was the sin of mankind that has led to disease and calamity, but it isn’t necessarily specific sins that cause sicknesses or trouble in this world. Rather, God works through all things to sharpen us, and cause us to be conformed to the image of God, thereby bringing Him glory (Romans 5:1-8) and us great joy.

The resulting upheaval from the healing was amazing. The religious leaders questioned the man’s parents, then questioned him, and since he didn’t know who Jesus was he didn’t really have much to answer. After questioning him and his parents they questioned the man a second time (vs. 24) and demanded that the man recant of giving any credit to Christ, but rather demanded that he give “God glory” (vs. 24).  The response of the man is truly great reasoning and evoked the following exchange:

He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” [28] And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. [29] We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” [30] The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. [31] We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. [32] Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. [33] If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” [34] They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:27-34)

It was after this that Jesus found him, and the man became a believer.

Chapter 10

The Good Shepherd

The I AM statements of Christ are prevalent throughout the gospel of John, and here we have two more of those famous statements: I am the good shepherd, I am the door.

The key to understanding Christ’s teaching here is understanding the role of a shepherd and the role of the sheep. The sheep come at the voice of a shepherd. Shepherds in the ancient near east did not herd their sheep, they led their sheep, and the sheep would only follow those whose voices they recognized.  Also, the door of the sheepfold was the one way in or out of the sheepfold. By saying that He was the door, Christ was saying that He was the only way into the kingdom of God.

The themes here tell us of God’s sovereignty in salvation (vs. 4, 14, 15), His goodness in provision for His sheep (vs. 10), and His abundant love for us that ensures not one of His sheep will be lost (vs. 16) and that He will lay His life down for the sheep (vs. 11, 17, 18).

The Divinity of Christ and the Deadness of Man

This next section takes place “during the feast of the dedication” which was in winter, about three months from the final Passover of Christ’s earthly ministry.

The crux of what occurs here is a dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees over His divinity. Christ claims that His works bear witness about who He is (namely the Messiah). But the Pharisees still can’t find it in their hearts to believe, and Christ addresses this using the same motif He used earlier in this chapter (no doubt why John chose to put these two in sequence):

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, [26] but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. [30] I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25-30)

So Christ tells them in plain language that:

  1. They don’t know Him because they are not of God
  2. They aren’t of God because they aren’t His sheep
  3. They aren’t His sheep because they don’t have His spirit
  4. Those who aren’t His sheep will perish: therefore they will perish
  5. He is the giver of eternal life: eternal life is for His sheep
  6. He gives eternal life by the power of His Father who is more powerful than all
  7. The Father will not allow anyone to snatch His sheep out of His hand
  8. He and the Father are one

It is this last statement that offends them so much because, like in 8:58, He is using the divine name as His own personal moniker, and saying in plain language that the God of the universe and Himself are “one.” What an astonishing claim!  The response to this is:

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. (John 10:31 ESV)

Jesus ends up talking them down from their folly, but leaves and goes into the countryside across the Jordan River. This is the last time many of these people will see Him before the triumphal entry.

If there are two things we can learn from this chapter, they are that the nature and operation of salvation is a mysterious thing that God sovereignly ordains and brings to pass, and secondly, that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God and equal with God the Father the creator of heaven and earth.

Chapter 11

The chapter begins by Jesus learning that Lazarus is ill, and we see Him making plans to visit Lazarus, but only in His divinely appointed time. Throughout the chapter the great love of Jesus for people in His care is made manifest (vs. 3, 5, 33, 35 etc.), and His humanity shines through so that the chapter combines the power and wisdom of His divinity with tenderness and empathy of a man who fully understood what it meant to suffer.

The entire chapter is a grand display of Christ’s majestic character, but perhaps the most significant texts are as follows:

Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, [15] and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:14-15)

Christ says that the purpose of Him staying behind was so that they might believe.  He did all of this for His purposes.  He heard that Lazarus was sick, and He knew that Lazarus was going to die, and what was His response?  He waited. He stayed put.  Can we doubt His complete control over all things?  He is sovereign!

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, [26] and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Christ asserts that He is the resurrection and the life.  The Jews (other than the Saducees) believed in the resurrection of the dead on the last day. But here Jesus is again taking a truth understood from of old and claiming that HE fulfills that truth.  He is the second Adam, He is the great son of David, He is the prophet that Moses spoke of, He is the fulfillment of the temple, He is the center of all history and He is the resurrection and the life. There is no life that has life or will have life or did have life apart from Him. He claims here nothing less than full control and power over life and death, and therefore nothing short of ultimate divinity.

The upshot is that we are to place our faith in Him – see how He leads Martha to that “Do you believe this?”  This is the question that all people who live are faced with. Do we believe the claims of Christ?

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. [34] And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” [35] Jesus wept. (John 11:33-35)

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. (John 11:38)

We forget the sense of what it means here that Christ was “deeply troubled” – this essentially means that He was not pleased, perhaps even angry.  He was disturbed, but not by the death of Lazarus, rather He was disturbed by the unbelief of the people, as well as being saddened for the loss.  These people were likely professional mourners, so their display of grief would have (perhaps) been less than sincere. It is hard to know, of course, but the sense of the situation here is that it is the unbelief of the people in the power of God that has caused Christ to be “deeply moved” and therefore He responds in vs. 40, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” [44] The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43-44)

The picture of Christ’s sovereign power over death is unmistakable.  Not only that, but the method in which He loosed Lazarus from the grace was emblematic of how He called life into being thousands of years before. By His voice He commanded Lazarus out of the grave – like the Divine Fiat (Augustine) He commands life into existence.

Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” [51] He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, [52] and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. (John 11:50-52)

Caiaphas unwittingly and prophetically pronounces the coming of the kingdom and the further fulfillment (assuming a partial fulfillment in the work of God through Joshua) of the Abramatic Covenant in verse 52 and, of course, the atonement offered by Christ in verse 50. An amazing thing to consider from this passage is the way in which God uses the mouths of the wicked to show forth the excellencies of His plan. Not that these wicked men have been singled out by some kind of privilege, but rather the plan that was put in motion from the beginning of time was not going to be stopped by any evil force – they even confess the plan of God and His sovereignty unknowingly, so complete is His power and so inevitable is His victory.