Study Notes 12-16-12

9:8-12 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” [9] Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” [10] So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” [11] He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” [12] They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

Textual Note: Morris explains that the “NIV’s ‘demanded’ (from verse 10) is a mite strong; the Greek means no more than ‘they said.’

The Testimony

Morris notes that the neighbors were in awe, “They were so astonished at such a cure that some of them refused to believe that this was the man who had been blind.”

He also notes that the man who was healed speaks of Christ in a way that indicates, “he has, as yet, little understanding of his Person. As the chapter progresses we will observe how his awareness of the significance of Jesus grows.”

I love this point from Morris because it connotes the subtlety and writing ability of John.  I never ceased to be amazed at the intricacy of this Gospel. John has so many strong themes, and so many subtle points, that it is a real joy to let the truth written herein soak into one’s mind for continual meditation.

There is no denying that when the man had been healed, people noticed. I find this significant because, as it relates to spiritual blindness, we are all groping in the dark until Christ heals us (1 John 2:11; John 3:19-21). When that happens, it is not something that happens in a vacuum. Baptism is meant to be the first outward showing of the inward change. But as one begins to follow Christ, can there be any doubt that neighbors, friends, family, co-workers and others will be able to see the light of Christ shine through us? There will be something different about those who love and follow Christ.

John says in his epistles that, “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him (1 John 2:29).”

And Christ says that we will recognize false prophets because they won’t reflect this change:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. [16] You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? [17] So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. [18] A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. [19] Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20] Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20 ESV)

That is what is meant that we are to be salt and light (Matthew 5) to a dying world (Puritan Richard Baxter first said he would preach as a dying man to a dying world – something echoed by Paul Washer and others as of late in their preaching of the gospel).

Therefore, let us reflect the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5), and shine forth the light of Christ so that they may see our good works and give glory to God (Matt. 5:16).

9:13-14 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. [14] Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

The Neighbors Have Questions…

I wondered at first why in the world these neighbors and friends would have brought the man to the Pharisees. It truly puzzled me. My first thought ran to the story of how the lepers were once cleansed by Christ and he instructed them to go show themselves to the priests (that was part of the law for cleansing) and that perhaps this was the same thing. But I think not, that would have been something the man would have done on his own, and in private. This was more than that.

The second thought that came to mind was that these people ought to have minded their own beeswax! What business was this of theirs? But as I read further into the customs and backdrop of the situation, I found that there is no reason to suppose these neighbors were committing any social taboo here.

In the end, D.A. Carson provided the most satisfactory explanation:

There is no need to ascribe malice to those who brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. They could not have known that the healed man would be subjected to interrogation and expulsion from the synagogue. In a day when almost all events bore religious overtones, the extraordinary healing cried out for comment by the religious authorities – much more so than the way that, in today’s world, after a significant international event millions of people will expect the Foreign Office or the State Department to express an opinion.

In short, John pictures the healed man’s neighbors turning to their local religious leaders and asking them what they should make of the healing.

The Significance of the Fulfilled Sabbath

I think it’s helpful to read the ESV notes on verse 14:

The belated mention of the Sabbath (cf. 5:9 and note on Matt. 12:8) recalls the earlier Sabbath controversy in John 5. Jesus had kneaded the clay with his saliva to make mud, and kneading dough (and by analogy, clay) was included among the 39 classes of work forbidden on the Sabbath (Mishnah, Shabbat 7.2). Jesus’ frequent conflicts with the Jews over the Sabbath suggest that by his coming he is changing the Sabbath requirements (see John 5:17).

Although Calvin seems to think that Jesus purposefully wrought the miracle on the Sabbath to make a point (and indeed He did nothing without purpose), Morris points out that it isn’t as though He seeks publicity on the matter, and only approaches the man after his interrogation with the Pharisees. This is evidence “against” this design says Morris, but I tend to agree with Calvin, because as we all know, Christ did not do anything during His life and ministry that was not specifically designed to be done, and although we must be cautious about reading meaning onto a thing which does not exist, still this controversy over the Sabbath was not a new thing (see chapter 5), and not something Christ avoided.

Sabbath Under the Old Covenant and Overview

There are two important things to understand about the Sabbath controversy in the gospels.  First, the Pharisees misunderstood the nature of the Sabbath under the old covenant.  They had added to it to make is something that it simply was not.  Second, we are no longer under the old covenant, so it is not as if we need to learn from the Pharisees’ mistakes, and correctly keep the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was never meant to simply be a physical rest, but also a spiritual rest.

The word “rest” itself has been misunderstood to mean physical rest, when it really means to “stop” – when God “rested” on the 7th day, it wasn’t as though He needed a break due to exhaustion.  It was because He stopped creating. The reason the Jews had a Sabbath was because it was a time for them to “stop” striving to keep the law and rest in the provision of God for their salvation. Of course they could never fully do this because even keeping the Sabbath was a form of law! So they were striving even in their stopping/resting.

And just as Christ pointed out that the Jews were incorrectly “keeping” the Sabbath during His day (under the Old Covenant), Paul had to show new covenant Christians that they were incorrectly enforcing a law that no longer was in force. To this day we misunderstand the nature of what the Sabbath means

J.C. Ryle, whom I love and admire dearly and who has imparted to me many spiritual truths, is a study in contradictions on this point.  First, he (rightly) sees that these Pharisees are completely misunderstanding the meaning of the Sabbath under the Old Covenant (they have added to the law).  He says:

These would-be wise men completely mistook the intention of the Sabbath. They did not see that it was “made for man,” and meant for the good of man’s body, mind, and soul. It was a day to be set apart from others, no doubt, and to be carefully sanctified and kept holy. But its sanctification was never intended to prevent works of necessity and acts of mercy. To heal a sick man was no breach of the Sabbath day. In finding fault with our Lord for so doing, the Jews only exposed their ignorance of their own law. They had forgotten that it is as great a sin to add to a commandment, as to take it away.

But Ryle completely goes astray after this, for his still applies the old covenant law to new covenant believers! Note how Pharisaical he sounds here:

Here, as in other places, we must take care that we do not put a wrong meaning on our Lord’s conduct. We must not for a moment suppose that the Sabbath is no longer binding on Christians, and that they have nothing to do with the Fourth Commandment. This is a great mistake, and the root of great evil. Not one of the Ten Commandments has ever been repealed or put aside…Whatever men may please to say, the way in which we use the Sabbath a sure test of the state of our religion. By the Sabbath may be found out whether we love communion with God. By the Sabbath may be found out whether we are in tune for heaven. By the Sabbath, in short, the secrets of many hearts are revealed. There are only too many of whom we may say with sorrow, “These men are not of God, because they keep not the Sabbath day.”

Note those bolded words “by the Sabbath may be found out whether we love communion with God.”  He is saying that by keeping the 10 commandments we show we love God. Nonsense! This is not what we’re told in the New Testament at all!

John says this:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. (1 John 2:3)

And what is this commandment?  The commandment of Christ – to love the Lord with all our hearts minds and soul and to love our brother as ourselves.  Not “keep the old law to the best of your ability.” John continues…

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. [10] Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. (1 John 2:9-10)

The New Testament/New Covenant Sabbath

The overarching point regarding the Sabbath is this: the Sabbath was meant primarily as a way to point forward to the spiritual rest that Christ has become for us.

It actually took a little while for this legalism to catch so much fire that it became the norm for us to think that we need to keep a “Sabbath” day, and certainly the puritan writers who were so influential in early American history were very legalistic about keeping a Sabbath.

However, the early church under Roman rule didn’t keep a Sabbath in the Jewish legalistic sense, if for no other reason than they weren’t allowed to.  Certainly these stalwart Christians would have died to obey Christ if this was truly a command worth dying for.  Craig Blomberg explains the context:

…Christians scarcely transferred everything about the Jewish Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.  Gentile believers, who comprised the majority of the church from the middle of the first century onwards, had no weekly days in their communities on which to rest. Greeks and Romans had several holidays each month according to the various religious festival calendars they followed. Bu unless one of these holidays fell on a Sunday, Gentile Christians had to work a full day on the first day of the week and squeeze in worship and fellowship with other believers either on Sunday morning before dawn or Saturday or Sunday night after dusk.

Perhaps one of the most important passages on the Sabbath is found in Hebrews where we read of how Christ has become our rest:

For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. [15] As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” [16] For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? [17] And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? [18] And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? [19] So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

So already here in Hebrews we see that entering the Sabbath rest is directly connected to obedience – and of course none of these Jews could obey – in fact the entire law was given to show them mainly just that (Romans 3:23).  But the passage continues:

4:1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. [2] For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. [3] For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. [4] For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” [5] And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, [7] again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” [8] For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. [9] So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, [10] for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. [11] Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 3:14-19; Hebrews 4:1-11 ESV)

So that opportunity still stands for rest – that is what the author of Hebrews is saying. That even though the Old Testament saints failed to enter into this rest by their disobedience, we can now enter into it simply by faith in Christ – not by the works of the law which no man can keep. After all, we are no longer under the law of death.

This is further explained in Hebrews 8:

Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. [5] They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:4-5 ESV)

And…

For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, [9] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. (Hebrews 8:8-9 ESV)

And finally…

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13 ESV)

Gotquestions.org summarizes this point well, they say, “There is no other Sabbath rest besides Jesus. He alone satisfies the requirements of the Law, and He alone provides the sacrifice that atones for sin. He is God’s plan for us to cease from the labor of our own works.” They continue, “Because of what He did, we no longer have to “labor” in law-keeping in order to be justified in the sight of God. Jesus was sent so that we might rest in God and in what He has provided.”

In the Old Testament, Israel had the Sabbath to be reminded to stop and depend on God because of their woeful inability to obey God. It pointed forward to Christ, to a time when one day they would not have to labor to keep His law; one day they would be freed from the curse of the law. Christ would come and fulfill the entirety of the law, and we would “rest” in His finished work.  Our only “work” now is to declare His work by proclaiming the gospel.

The Law Kills…Christ Fulfills

We have a tendency as Christians to fall back into legalism. The Sabbath is no different, and Paul addresses this in Galatians because these men and women fell into the same trap:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. [2] Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? [3] Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

They were still striving to accomplish all that laid out in the law, instead of resting in the finished work of Christ. They were still forcing people to be circumcised and still following holidays (like the Sabbath) where some did not feel the need follow these for sake of conscience. For we are no longer under this curse as Paul says:

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. (Galatians 3:13-14)

Perhaps the key passage here is verses 24-26:

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. (Galatians 3:24-26)

Note the word “until” Christ came. The law was added and did not annul the gospel promise that was made to Abraham. But the law has now been fulfilled in Christ. Paul puts it this way that “we are no longer under a guardian” (the law). How much more clearly must he state it? We are no longer under the law! Stop trying to keep the law – fulfill the law of Christ as He commanded.

Hebrews 10:1 explains the futility of trying to keep the Old Testament law, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.”

I enjoy the insight of my friend Pastor Tony Romano on the matter of the Sabbath.  In an email conversation about this he put it this way:

Foundationally, commanding literal rest is anything but rest-giving, it’s part of the deliberate burden woven into the old covenant (Galatians). The Decalogue is not described as rest-giving in the New Testament scriptures, but as the “letter that kills.”  Yes, they were meant to use the Sabbath as an occasion to be thankful and remember God…because that is right…but the commandment could not produce this righteousness God required of them. That was the whole point of giving the commandment, to show they could not follow it and needed a Savior. The Sabbath ordinance brought death; not life and not rest. They were constantly under the burden of making sure they rested when Sabbath came. I guess that’s the nuance I would add here…the Sabbath is actually not ultimately about physical rest and relaxation, as it finally provided neither. Law creates work, not rest.

Another important passage in this discussion is Colossians 2:16-17 which states:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. [17] These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17 ESV)

The ESV Study notes have helpful commentary on this passage:

Col. 2:17 “a shadow of the things to come.” The old covenant observances pointed to a future reality that was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 10:1). Hence, Christians are no longer under the Mosaic covenant (cf. Rom. 6:14–15; 7:1–6; 2 Cor. 3:4–18; Gal. 3:15–4:7). Christians are no longer obligated to observe OT dietary laws (“food and drink”) or festivals, holidays, and special days (“a festival … new moon … Sabbath,” Col. 2:16), for what these things foreshadowed has been fulfilled in Christ.

If the law kills, how does Christ fulfill? In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

Christ was on a mission to fulfill these laws completely not abolish them.  He didn’t abolish them because He had not fulfilled them yet. In other words, He is describing His work, not ours.

Commenting on the Matthew 5 passage, Blomberg puts it this way:

It’s an unusual contrast. Normally, if someone says he is not abolishing something, he goes on to say he is preserving it intact. But that’s not how the word fulfill is used in the Bible. In Matthew alone, its most common meaning is “to bring about that which was predicted” or “to give the complete meaning of something that was once only partially disclosed” (for example, 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 3:15; 4:14).

Therefore, He came to earth to be subject to the law and to complete it in perfect obedience. Then, and only then, could this perfect righteousness of His be imputed to our account. If He had abolished the law and said “I’m not going to obey the law, but do what I want”, He certainly could have done anything since He is God, but the point was to fulfill that which we could not fulfill (to obey what we could not obey) so that His righteousness could be given to us.  Despite our failures, He has completed the task perfectly for us.  But there’s no more task to be completed.  He did that already.  He fulfilled the task’s assignments and we no longer need this guardian of the law because Christ has come to get rid of the babysitter (so to speak) and adopt us into the family. In this way we need no more communion with the law because we have communion with God through the Holy Spirit who is the one helping us obey the commands of Christ, namely to love the Lord and our neighbors as well.

Blomberg, commenting on the Colossians passage, concludes, “Christ’s incarnation is the reality that the holy days foreshadowed. Jesus’ followers come to Him and He gives them rest 24-7, as we would say today, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). Our whole lives are a Sabbath rest, foreshadowing our eternal rest (Heb. 4:9-11).

This leads me to the final point in our look at the Sabbath…

We Also Look Forward

Like the Israelites who looked forward to one that would usher in spiritual “rest”, we also feel the tension of the already/not yet in that while we rest in His finished work, His provision, His imputed righteousness, and our adoption, we also long for the day we will see the consummation/realization of this rest (in a physical sense – we will no longer battle sickness and disease which are all the results of the fall and original sin) and the kingdom of earth will become the kingdom of Christ at His parousia.

Paul explained this tension in Romans 8:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)

9:15-17 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” [16] Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.

So we see here that the reaction of the Pharisees is once again abhorrence for Christ.  This time, as in chapter 5, it is for His breaking of the Sabbath.  Morris notes, “John evidently wants us to see that the activity of Jesus as the Light of the world inevitably results in judgment on those whose natural habitat is darkness. They oppose the Light and they bring down condemnation on themselves accordingly.”

Not only this, but I see a sort of interesting parallel in the way they (not unlike the disciples) were using faulty logic. It is a sign of the weakness and impotence of the mind of man that, without the aid of the Divine Being, they cannot understand the things of God. Here the Pharisees deduced that because Christ did “work” on the Sabbath, He must have therefore not been “from God.”

While we understand from our previous study of chapter 5 that this is incorrect (because Christ is “Lord of the Sabbath”), what was going on here was something bigger – a new covenant was about to be inaugurated, with new rules. This new covenant would not simply be a renewal of the old (Jer. 31:32), but would be something entirely new.

The reason for this is also explained in the book of Hebrews where it says, “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well (Hebrews 7:11-12).”

Commenting on this passage, Blake White says, “Notice that the law and the priesthood are bound up together. It is a package deal. If the priesthood changes, then the law changes as well.”

Christ was changing the paradigm, and this was yet another outward manifestation (or “sign”) of that reality, of that Kingdom which He came to usher in.  In Matthew 12:28 after performing a cleansing of a man who had a demon, Christ had been criticized by the Pharisees for casting out these demons by the power of Satan.  But Christ corrected their illogical argument and then added, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

The Point and Application

Now, I don’t think that the Pharisees understood what was going on here entirely – they couldn’t have understood it (Rom. 8:7), but for us looking back on this I find it significant.  Christ is Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8), and here He is showing us what kinds of things must be done by those who rest in Christ (us!).  We must go to a lost and dying world and offer them the Bread of Life, which can only be found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

John MacArthur points out that this was a beautiful illustration of the salvation process:

Blinded by sin, lost sinners have no capacity to recognize the Savior or find Him on their own. The blind man would not have been healed had Jesus not sought him and revealed Himself to him. So it is in salvation; if God did not reach out to spiritually blind sinners, no one would be saved. And just as the blind man was healed only when he obeyed Jesus’ command and washed in the pool of Siloam, so also are sinners saved only when they humbly and obediently embrace the truth of the gospel.

And R.C. Sproul concludes:

The Bible uses the metaphor of blindness again and again for people who have never perceived the truth of Christ. The eyes of their hearts are blind until God the Holy Spirit, without the help of spit and clay, opens them. When He does, they not only perceive the light of day, they see the light of the world. John said in his prologue, “We beheld His glory” (1:14). All those whose spiritual eyes have been opened may say the same. Are you among them?

Therefore, we must learn to be mortifying and hating sin, and we must understand that God has a plan for us that outweighs all the pain and suffering caused by sin.

On the latter score Barnes remarks, “Those who are afflicted with blindness, deafness, or any deformity, should be submissive to God. It is His appointment, and is right and best. God does no wrong; and when all His works are seen, the universe will see and know that He is just.”

And on the former point, J.C. Ryle says, “Let us learn to hate sin with a godly hatred, as the root of more than half of our cares and sorrows. Let us fight against it, mortify it, crucify it, and abhor it both in ourselves and others. There cannot be a clearer proof that man is a fallen creature than the fact that he can love sin and take pleasure in it.”

Study Notes 11-18-12

We continue our study of John’s Gospel and will be looking at some of our Lord’s greatest words (if one can possibly peal off greatness from greatness) as it pertains to freedom, and our natural state of slavery to sin and darkness.

The Lord has freed us from the galleys of slavery and to sin and self-centeredness and brought us into the glorious light of the knowledge of His gospel.  God be praised!  Let’s start into the lesson…

John 8:31-36 – Freedom from Sin

8:31-32 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

First I want to go back and examine how verse 30 and verse 31 interact with each other, because many good commentators have pointed out that both verses in many of our English versions use the word “believe” to describe the people’s reaction here.

Some say there is some difference between the meanings used, Boice, for instance says that the first is meant to be saving faith and the latter to mean intellectual ascent.  But they both utilize the same Greek word “pisteuō”, so I’m not entirely convinced of that.  What I am convinced of is that those who were listening to Jesus may have believed what He was saying mentally, but obviously they didn’t stand the discipleship test, which we’ll see later on.

Abiding in the Word

The second thing we note here is the nature of a true Christian.  The true Christian “abides” in the word of Christ.

In our study of John 6:55-56 we talked about the nature of abiding.  Those verses say, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Here is what I noted about what it meant to “abide”:

The word “abide” is “meno” in the Greek and can mean to sojourn or tarry in a place, to be kept continually, to continue to be present, to endure, and when talking about it in relation to a state a condition of a person it can mean to “remain as one” and “not become different.”

To abide in Christ and have Him abide in us is normally meant that we are continually relying on Christ for our vitality.  I like what the ESV Study notes say, “abide in me means to continue in a daily, personal relationship with Jesus, characterized by trust, prayer, obedience, and joy.”

What Christ is saying, in affect, is that a true Christian will have the desire to spend time listening, reading, and meditating on His word.  A true Christian will be obeying His word as well.  These are fruits of a true Christ-follower.  Truly it is a privilege to know something of the eternal God, and that we should know this truth in even a small way is in itself part of our reward as well as our fruit of the relationship we gain by acquaintance with Jesus.  Calvin enumerates upon this privilege as only Calvin can:

Wherefore, whatever progress any of us have made in the Gospel, let him know that he needs new additions. This is the reward which Christ bestows on their perseverance, that he admits them to greater familiarity with him; though in this way he does nothing more than add another gift to the former, so that no man ought to think that he is entitled to any reward. For it is he who impresses his word on our hearts by his Spirit, and it is he who daily chases away from our minds the clouds of ignorance which obscure the brightness of the Gospel. In order that the truth may be fully revealed to us, we ought sincerely and earnestly to endeavor to attain it. It is the same unvarying truth which Christ teaches his followers from the beginning to the end, but on those who were at first enlightened by him, as it were with small sparks, he at length pours a full light. Thus believers, until they have been fully confirmed, are in some measure ignorant of what they know; and yet it is not so small or obscure a knowledge of faith as not to be efficacious for salvation.

Freedom from Sin

The third thing we take from the passage is the result of abiding is learning the truth, and by learning that truth we will experience a great reality: freedom.  What kind of freedom could He mean?  I believe that Christ is talking about freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, freedom from the slavery to the prince of this world – what Calvin calls “an invaluable blessing.”  It is these points Jesus goes on to labor in his debate with the Pharisees.

What does true freedom looks like? Freedom looks like someone who has the fruit of the Spirit.  And, not coincidently, those who have the fruit of the Spirit are also abiding in the Word of God – written by that same Spirit.

Perhaps there is no better expositing of this truth than Paul’s writing in Romans 6.  The entire chapter is about being free from sin, and being a slave to righteousness.  The dichotomy between the two is labored by Paul because so many people think that they are basically good people who happen to sin a little here and there.

Amazing to think that what was so important for Paul to intensively labor in Romans 6, is actually more pertinent today than ever before.

Perhaps the most pertinent part of Romans 6 as it applies to this particular verse, is the section between verses 6 and 11:

[6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [7] For one who has died has been set free from sin. [8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. [10] For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [11] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The main thrust of this part of the passage is that we were formally slaves to sin, but because of Christ’s work we have been set free from sin.  It is the gospel that has delivered us from our sin. That is the freedom Christ is talking about here in verse 32.  He’s saying that because He was going to conquer death, death would no longer have dominion over us. Sin’s end is death, and so sin and its result (death) would no longer have power over anyone who believes upon Christ. Calvin agrees, saying that the kind of liberty that’s being described here is “that which sets us free from the tyranny of Satan, sin, and death.”

Barnes says, “The service of God is freedom from degrading vices and carnal propensities; from the slavery of passion and inordinate desires. It is a cheerful and delightful surrender of ourselves to Him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.”

When we think about the practical way this has revolutionized our lives, its unthinkable to go back to living any other way. Calvin says, “All men feel and acknowledge that slavery is a very wretched state; and since the gospel delivers us from it, it follows that we derive from the gospel the treasure of a blessed life.”  To this comment I can only add “amen!”

Born Free?

I’m always amazed at how many Christians insist on stating that they “freely” chose Christ because they were born with “free will.”  But as R.C. Sproul reminds us, we need to be cautious when we talk about free will so that we know exactly what it is we’re saying.

Certainly God gives us the freedom of choice to make decisions.  We aren’t robots, and we aren’t puppets.  But there are some things that even in our natural freedom we are not free to do.  One of those things is not sinning.  When we are born into this world, we are not free not to sin.  In other words, we are going to sin because it is who we are, and we are enslaved to it.  We will continue in this sin until Christ sets us free from it.

Calvin comments, “It is astonishing that men are not convinced by their own experience, so that, laying aside their pride, they may learn to be humble. And it is a very frequent occurrence in the present day, that, the greater the load of vices by which a man is weighed down, the more fiercely does he utter unmeaning words in extolling free-will.”

This is what irked the Pharisees.  They were saying, “Hey Jesus, we’re not slaves to anyone!  We make our own decisions.  We live our own lives.  No one rules over us, or our families!” But they were wrong in saying this, and people today are wrong in thinking that mankind is free to do whatever they’d like – we aren’t free to be holy and perfect because we’re incapable of it in our natural state.

When you think about how this plays out, it’s really worth contemplating and meditating on deeply because it shows the state of our old self and where we were headed apart from Christ.  For when we were slaves to sin, not only were we tethered to that form of life that is most odious to Christ, but we are tethered to the result of that life, namely death. When Christ unchains us from our slavery to sin, He also unchains us from the pangs of death – death could not rule over him (Acts 2), and we also have victory over death due to His death and resurrection (Rom. 6).

A.W. Pink laments at how fallen we are in our natural state, and yet how unwilling we are to realize this fact:

The condition of the natural man is far, far worse than he imagines, and far worse than the average preacher and Sunday school teacher supposes. Man is a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the head (Isa. 1:6). He is completely under the dominion of sin (John 8:34), a bond-slave to divers lusts (Titus 3:3), so that he “cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14). Moreover, the natural man is thoroughly under the dominion of it. He is taken captive by the Devil at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). He walks according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). He fulfills the lusts of his father, the Devil (John 8:44). He is completely dominated by Satan’s power (Col. 1:13). And from this thraldom nothing but the truth of God can deliver.

When I first read Pink’s comments it struck me to the bone. His first sentence was aimed at me – the teacher. Am I really honest with how ugly I was before Christ? That is a question that not many men or women truly meditate on for much more than a passing thought – perhaps before taking the Lord’s Super. But what Pink is calling us to realize is our state of depravity and darkness without Jesus.

Calvin says this, “For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit, he likewise makes us free, so that, loosed from the snares of Satan, we willingly obey righteousness. But regeneration proceeds from faith, and hence it is evident that freedom proceeds from the gospel.”

Barnes adds, “There is need of the gospel. That only can make men free, calm, collected, meek, and lovers of truth; and as every man is by nature the servant of sin, he should without delay seek an interest in that gospel which can alone make him free.”

In the midst of our celebration of this freedom, we pause and wonder, “now wait a minute, how is it that I still continue to sin?”  Well, as Paul works this matter of slavery out in Romans 6, we are glad he continued to write because when we get to Romans 7 we learn that he faced that same dilemma – namely that he still continued to battle sin.  Despite the freedom not to sin that Christ has given us, Paul says that we still sin due to the nature of the flesh. But I don’t want to get too deep into that here.  The main point we need to see is the dichotomy between one who is a slave to sin, and one who is not, and that we have been made free men and women by the power and work of Christ.

8:33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Ironically, the very shackles that bound these Pharisees in their sin were the same chains causing them to claim they weren’t enslaved to anyone.  In their blindness they claimed they weren’t blind.  In their darkness they claimed to be enlightened.  These were truly men who were missing the point.

Oddly enough (and Calvin picks up on this point as well) it isn’t as though these people have never been enslaved physically to anyway…in point of fact, they were currently under a type of mild slavery/tyranny by the Romans at this very time in history – something I will address shortly. Warren Wiersbe collects these thoughts together succinctly:

Their claim that Abraham’s descendants had never been in bondage was certainly a false one that was refuted by the very record in the Old Testament Scriptures. The Jews had been enslaved by seven mighty nations, as recorded in the book of Judges. The ten northern tribes had been carried away captive by Assyria, and the two southern tribes had gone into seventy years of captivity in Babylon. And at that very hour, the Jews were under the iron heel of Rome! How difficult it is for proud religious people to admit their failings and their needs!

Pink cites all of the above that Wiersbe mentions, and then says, “It was therefore the height of absurdity and a manifest departure from the truth for them to affirm that the seed of Abraham had never been in bondage. Yet no more untenable and erroneous was this than the assertions of present-day errorists who prate so loudly of the freedom of the natural man, and who so hotly deny that his will is enslaved by sin.”

8:34-36 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.

Jesus uses the emphatic phrase “truly, truly” to get our attention.  He is saying to us “pay attention to this.”

Bondage to our Self-Centeredness

D.A. Carson explores the intent of what Christ is saying, “For Jesus, then, the ultimate bondage is not enslavement to a political or economic system, but vicious slavery to moral failure, to rebellion against the God who had made us. The despotic master is not Caesar, but shameful self-centeredness, an evil and enslaving devotion to created things at the expense of worship of the Creator.”

In other words, we are so self-centered and self-serving that our own sin and moral failures are the chief problems that need to be dealt with in life.

I think this is so important because the context in which Jesus is saying this is under the oppression of the Roman regime. The Jewish people had found their freedoms limited, and their liberties cut off. We also are going through a time in America where our own liberties are in question. We see the despotic nature of our government, which is becoming ever more tyrannical and hostile to Christian beliefs and values, and we wonder (rightly) if our freedoms will all be gone within a generation.

The generation of men and women Christ was addressing were far worse off than we are today, yet, like them, we often find ourselves distracted from solving life’s most important challenges, and that is what Christ came to solve.  The real problem is with ourselves, not our government. There’s only so much you can do about government – believe me, I’ve been fighting that battle for a while now.  Jesus isn’t saying that freedom from political tyranny isn’t important, what He is saying is that there’s something even more important.  When the Son of God came to the earth, He came to address life’s biggest problems, life’s biggest challenges. He came to free us from our bondage to sin.

That’s why we gather on Sunday mornings, that’s why we “abide” in the word of God, that’s why we pray and devote ourselves to growth in Christ. Because what we are doing today and on these other days, is addressing the real problems in life – life’s most consequential and difficult challenges.

The Power of the Son

The second thing that Jesus says in this passage is that as the Son of God He has unique privileges and power. He has the ability to set them free, because He has full reign over the house of God.  Calvin comments, “By these words he means that the right of freedom belongs to himself alone, and that all others, being born slaves, cannot be delivered by his grace.  For what he possesses as his own by nature he imparts to us by adoption, when we are engrafted by faith into his body, and become his members.”

“…the Gospel is the instrument by which we obtain our freedom” – Calvin

One of the main reasons I like to bring up the issue of the way we view “free will” is because in our “freedom” we come to rely too heavily on our flesh for the support of our souls. Here is what I mean by that: when we are going through the turmoil that this life brings us, it is natural (because of the flesh) to wonder at the purpose of life, and even whether our souls are truly saved. We wonder at God and ask Him in our difficulties whether He’s really there or not.  We wonder at Him and ask if we are truly saved or not.

Well one of the great things we hear Jesus saying in this passage is that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” In other words, He is the one with the power over sin and death, and not your “free will” or your “fleshly power.”  To steal a recent campaign theme, “you didn’t build this” – no indeed: Christ built this!

Carson says this, “Jesus not only enjoys inalienable rights as the unique Son of God, but exercises full authority, vested in him by the Father (3:35), to liberate slaves. Those who Jesus liberates from the tyranny of sin are really (ontos) free.”

Those who build their house upon this Rock will be able to stand firm in the storm because they know they weren’t the craftsmen, they weren’t the guarantee of the foundation’s sturdiness.  Christ Himself is the cornerstone and the Master Builder, and when life’s trials come, you can say with confidence “I will survive this, and either by life or death I will be with Christ, for He is my firm foundation, and in His work I can trust.”

Carson makes the great point that once free, we have been set free for a purpose:

True freedom is not the liberty to do anything we please, but the liberty to do what we ought; and it is genuine liberty because doing what we ought now pleases us.

What an amazing truth he’s hit on here. Christ knows that those who are set free are going to want to please Christ – before we simply wanted to please ourselves, now we have a desire and are at liberty to please the Lover of our Souls.

Dear friends: step away from the reliance on your own work, and rest upon the great and mighty work of Jesus Christ – the Son who has set you free!

 

Bible Study Resources

This is a post I’ve had on my “to-do” list for a LONG time now.  Many people ask me for tips on how to study the Bible, and how/where to find the answers they need as they are reading.  It’s a very common thing (for me and everyone one I know) to be reading along and stumble on a word, a phrase, an idea, a name etc that raises questions, concerns, or curiosity.

So where do you go to find the answers to these questions? Well, I’d like to begin a post here with some sites/books you can use to compliment your Bible Study.  I’d imagine that I’ll need to periodically update this post as I find new resources myself – I also intend on starting with a relatively small list and adding as I have time. So here goes…

Bible Overviews and Handbooks

Bible overviews usually take a broad look at whole books, locations, and people in order to distill things into a readable and quick reference.  I like:

Wiersbe’s ‘With the Word’ – this is a chapter by chapter summary of the entire Bible.  Very cool stuff.  Very easy to read.

MacArthur’s Bible Handbook – this book is fantastic.  It gives a book by book overview of the entire Bible, including “where is Christ” in every book, an outline of each book, and many other great background and authorship notes.  It also has a “tough questions answered” section for each book – very neat and very helpful!

Westminster’s Theological Dictionary – ever wonder what those fancy theological terms mean? Well now you can know! LOL  This book is seriously really great.  Each definition is only one or two sentences long.  Very concise and easy.  Very helpful.

New Dictionary of Theology – this is like the Westminster Theological Dictionary, only a little more expanded.  It almost reminds me of an encyclopedia.  This one is written and edited by Ferguson, Wright, and Packer, so needless to say its VERY good!

What’s in the Bible? – this is a great overview of the entire Bible by R.C. Sproul and Robert Wolgemuth.  Its eminently readable, and very helpful if you’re looking to get a quick overview of entire books/sections of biblical history.

Bible Commentaries

Commentaries are probably the most important study resource a Bible Scholar should have on their shelves at home.  Commentaries come in a variety of different ways.  Some are a collection of notes on each book of the Bible by 1 author (like Calvin or MacArthur), others are a collection of notes on each book by a series of authors, others are simply stand alone notes on one or two particular books of the Bible by 1 author.  Some commentaries are expositional and some are more pastoral.  The former is focused more on a verse by verse explanation of the text, the latter focuses on the bigger picture only and takes large sections of the text at a time.  As you might imagine, commentaries reflect a Biblical theology of the writer, and shouldn’t be taken as “gospel” (so to speak).  However, every pastor I know uses commentaries to see what the great Christian men and women thought about the Biblical text long before we were born.  Here are some of my favorites (though I may not agree with each person on every point):

Calvin’s Commentaries – these are available online for free and here. These are a blend of pastoral and exegetical. Calvin wrote commentaries on most of the Bible, but some of the OT books are left out, as is Revelation.

Barnes Notes – Albert Barnes wrote these, this is a new testament only. He’s very conservative, and really solid on most every passage.  He does a great job of dispelling error and helps you logically sort through the possibilities for difficult verses as well.  Really like a lot of his work.

Wiersbe’s Commentary – very pastoral in his approach, this is most of the entire Bible, with a few of the old testament books combined. I enjoy his writing and his overarching points.  It’s not a “must have”, but its very helpful on some of the OT books and minor prophets.

Sproul’s Commentary Set – this is very pastor in its approach, and not as in-depth on a verse by vese basis as some of the others.  Still, there’s no one with insights quite like R.C. Sproul.  Often he has things to say that many of the others simply don’t think of, or are too timid to focus on.  He has only done 5 volumes (6 books) thus far.  I’ve read through most of all of them (except the Mark edition which I don’t have) and have really enjoyed them thus far.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible – great puritan preacher Matthew Henry wrote these notes for teaching his family, not his church.  But they have ended up as classics, and show a brilliant depth of understanding, and wonderful heart for God.  A blend between exegetical and pastoral style.

Pillar Commentary Set – I’ve used D.A. Carson’s volume on John (which is what this link is for), and have a lot of respect for some of the other authors in this set (some overlap here with the New International Commentary Set).  This is a more exegetical/technical commentary set from what I’ve seen. Only New Testament.

MacArthur’s Bible Commentaries – These are very good, very exegetical, and really helpful commentaries.  He takes the time to explain words, phrases, and history even larger themes.  This is only New Testament though. They can be purchased as a set or individually.

John Stott’s Set – These are edited and partially written (in some cases) by Stott and from what I’ve read thus far they are really solid.

MacArthur Whole Bible Commentary – these are his Study Bible notes (maybe slightly expanded) put into a one volume edition.  A good quick resource for getting a grasp of the passage you’re looking at.

The New International Commentary Set – These are very technical and very good.  If you’re interested in knowing all the angles, all the background, and all the key view points on each passage of scripture, I’ve found that these are great editions.  Leon Morris, Douglass Moo, F.F. Bruce and others wrote each volume. This link is for the NT, but there’s also OT volumes as well.

Vernon McGee’s Commentary – This is very pastoral, very funny and light hearted.  He has some good insights, notes, but you won’t get the kind of in-depth education that MacArthur or Carson will provide.  He’s also dispensational in his approach to the Scripture, which means that some of his Old Testament comments are a little wacky.

James Montgomery Boice– This is a link to his set.  He’s done Daniel, Romans, Acts, and several other books as well.  These are probably some of the best pastoral-styled commentaries that I’ve ever read.  He and Ryle are probably tied at the top of my favorites list for men who know how to bring out the very best in a passage of scripture.

J.C. Ryle’s Commentary on the Gospels – He only did the gospels, but its worth looking at anyway!  Ryle is very pastoral, but also provides a verse by verse analysis in some parts (especially in John).  You can also get his Matthew commentary online for free here. 

Crossway Classic Series – This is a set of commentaries that form a compilation of many great authors, including Ryle, Calvin, Manton, Henry, Owen, Hodge and more.

Systematic Theologies

Systematic theologies sound more daunting than they really are!  A systematic theology is a book that organizes the different theological topics of the Bible and provides a doctrinal overview of each topic.  Topics usually range from election, adoption, the incarnation, justification, sanctification, the millenium and much more.  These books are heavily influenced by the theology of the person compiling the volume, but most that I’ve read try and offer an objective viewpoint and reason why we believe what we believe.  You really only need one or two at most, because they are SO large!  However, these are some of the most helpful tools you can have at home for personal study.

Grudem’s Systematic Theology – if you’re going to buy one systematic theology, it should be Grudem’s.  I don’t agree 100% with him on the millenium or on the age of the earth, but he’s very very good on just about every other big theological issue.  Just a tremendous resource to have at your fingertips.

Michael Horton’s Systematic Theology – I am borrowing this edition at the moment, and unlike some of his other work, I think its a slightly more readable volume.  Horton tends to speak in a sort of unnecessary academic vernacular, so if I had to recommend a volume that is readable for the layman, this probably wouldn’t be my first pick.  As I read more I’ll add more information here.

Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology – This is one that is a classic, and is really good as well.  I don’t have as much experience pawing through its pages as some others, but I can’t begin to count the times that Sproul and others have quoted this volume.

Websites

CCEL – this is an amazing collection of online commentaries, essays, sermons and more.  Calvin, Ryle, Augustine, Edwards and on and on.  All of it is here.

Blue Letter Bible – This is probably the best place I’ve found online to look up the Greek and Hebrew meanings of words in Scripture.  It’s simply an amazing resource.

Biblos – One of the best parallel Bibles online today.  This site is also just simply terrific.  You can get commentaries here as well, and there are some language tools available too.  What I like most about it is that when you look up a verse, you can immediate see 10 different versions of the verse.  There are also pretty decent maps that go along with some of the passages here.

ESV.org – If you don’t own an ESV Study Bible, well, you should.  The notes in the ESV are probably the best notes available today.  The general editor was JI Packer, and the contributing editors and authors are nothing short of a laundry list sof the finest scholars in the world.  It’s been endorsed by just about every major Christian scholar today.  If you have the study Bible, you have automatic access to the online study notes, maps, and other goodies.  If you don’t, then you can at least read the Bible, but you need the code to sign up and get the study notes.  The site also has the ability to plug in MacArthur’s study bible notes as well if you purchase them.